[Videolib] bio of jean rouch from indieWire

Steve Fesenmaier (fesenms@wvlc.lib.wv.us)
Tue, 24 Feb 2004 13:13:05 -0500

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Verite Pioneer Jean Rouch: 1917 - 2004

by Eugene Hernandez

French filmmaker Jean Rouch, considered
the father of cinema verite, died last week
in a car crash at the age of 86. The
director's "Chronicle of a Summer"
(1960) was hailed as a bold new type of
documentary, made in a time when
technology created new opportunities and
flexibility -- namely a portable, hand-held
film camera and a sync sound system. It
was a film that also inspired the work of
the French New Wave filmmakers in the
1960s.

Rouch was attending a film festival in
Niger at the time of his death, a country
that was in many ways his second home.
Born in Paris in 1917, Rouch, an acclaimed
ethnologist, spent much of his time in
Niger documenting life there. The accident
occurred north of the country's capital of Niamey; Rouch was
traveling with his wife,
Niger filmmaker Moustapha Alassane and actor Damoure Zike who was
injured, but
survived the crash. He will be buried today in Niger.

According to stories widely reported, Rouch adopted the hand-held
style after losing
his tripod in a river in Niger. In the landmark "Chronicle of a
Summer," Rouch and his
co-director Edgar Morin asked Parisians the simple question, "Are you
happy?" The
answers created a stunning document of contemporary life in the city.

In 1998, Rouch attended New York's Docfest, where he presented a
screening of
"Summer" and participated in a discussion about verite filmmaking
with Al Maysles
and D.A. Pennebaker. "A film is a thing you can touch and smell," he
said at the time,
"It's a sort of love affair."

Rouch ran the Cinematheque Francais for four years and continued to
work even into
the 90s. He was in Niger to present a retrospective of his work at
the time of his
death.

"Rejecting both the idealism of Robert Flaherty and the didacticism
of Joris Ivens and
John Grierson, Rouch aimed for the immediacy of television, without
its superficiality,"
wrote Ronald Bergan in The Guardian, in one of the many obituaries
about the
filmmaker. "He believed that the camera's intervention stimulated
people to greater
spontaneity, expression and truth without asking them, as in the
American Direct
Cinema, to act as though the camera was not there." Continuing with a
quote
attributed to the director, the paper added, "The camera eye is more
perspicacious
and more accurate than the human eye," he said. "The camera eye has
an infallible
memory, and the filmmaker's eye is divided."

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