<em>Au pays des mages noirs (In the Land of the Black Magi)</em>. 1946–47. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Image courtesy of  I.N.A / restauration CNC AFF

Jean Rouch: Early Films from West Africa, 1946–1951

Saturday, October 22, 2011, 1:30 p.m.

Theater 2 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2), T2

Includes the following films:

  • The Men Who Make the Rain

    1951. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. "Rain rituals with possession dances among the Songhay and Zarma of Simiri, Zermaganda, Niger" (Rouch). The spirits speak through the voices of the dancers they have chosen, including the spirit of the wind, goddess of the cemeteries, the rainbow, master of the lightning, master of the thunderbolt, and master of the thunder and the rain. 28 min.

  • In the Land of the Black Magi

    1946–47. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Rouch’s earliest surviving film, which depicts the Sorko of Niger on a hippopotamus hunt. 12 min.

  • Initiation into Possession Dance

    1948. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Ritual possession dances among the Songhay of Firgoun, Niger. 22 min.

  • The Magicians of Wanzerbé

    1948. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. “Screened at the first ethnographic film conference of the Musée de l’Homme, [this film] depicts rituals of Songhay magicians who are descendants of Emperor Sonny Ali from the village of Wanzerbé, Niger, [including scenes of] the Wanzerbé market, children’s games, Mossi the magician, dance of the magicians, and sacrifice made to the village mountain spirit” (Rouch). 29 min.

  • Cemetery in the Cliff

    1950. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Rouch records funeral rituals among the Dogon on the cliffs of Bandiagara, Mali, centering on a sacrifice to the spirit of the water, the return of the cadaver, and the interment of the body in the cemetery. 18 min.

A program of rarely screened ethnographic films that Jean Rouch recorded in the West African countries of Mali and Niger, preserved by the Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy. Rouch (1917–2004) radically transformed nonfiction cinema and anthropology. His more than 100 films shattered any quaint notions of objectivity or unmediated, singular truth, irrespective of whether his subjects were the cultures, ceremonies, rituals, attitudes, music, and magic-making of the Songhay tribe of the upper Niger or those of his fellow Parisians. Even today, Rouch’s films remain provocative and controversial in their interrogations of racism, colonialism, self-portraiture, the imaginary and the unreal, improvisation, the aura of the camera (what he called the “ciné-trance”), and the condition of observing and being observed.

In the Film exhibition To Save and Project: The Ninth MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation

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