Les États généraux du film documentaire 2012 Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Ben Russell and Jean Rouch

Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Ben Russell and Jean Rouch


"Cinema, art of the double, is already a passage from the world of the Real to that of the imagination, and ethnography, the science of systems of the thought of others, is a constant crossing from one conceptual universe to another, an exercise where losing your footing is the least of risks."

Jean Rouch


"The notion that any sort of representation could err on the side of objectivity has always seemed especially suspect to me. Since a fairly exciting toss-up in the sixties and seventies (involving such characters as Rouch, Asch, and Gardner), ethnography seems to have resolved its problems of representation by declaring its allegiance to science, and not art. This makes for a pretty easy target, and since I’m generally more interested in art than science, I’d rather keep working on finding new ways to deal with understanding and not-understanding the world. Knowledge seems much too contingent on context to hope for much else. […] Jean Rouch’s film was absolutely a critical reference point for Black and White Trypps Number Three, and the representation of transcendence in both films is a dialogue I was certainly hoping to arrive at. I arrived at the notion of filming the audience at a Lightning Bolt show in part because I was trying to imagine what a corollary within my own culture could be to the Hauka of Les Maîtres fous. I’d been part of that crowd depicted in Number Three numerous times, and I didn’t feel like it was enough just to make a document of the experience – I wanted to engage in the fact of spectatorship, of cinema, which has its own assumptions and expectations of transcendence. A representation is not the thing it represents, and so I set out to produce something else."

Ben Russell


"So the filmmaker stages this reality, improvises framing, movement, times when he shoots, subjective choices whose only key is personal inspiration. And no doubt the masterwork is achieved when the inspiration of the observer is at one with the collective inspiration being observed. But that is so rare, it requires such complicity. […] And if it has happened that I have succeeded this dialogue, for example in The Drums of Yore (Tourou and Bitti), a ten minute single shoulder tracking shot on a dance of possession, I can still taste the effort, the risk confronted of not stumbling, not losing my focus and diaphragm, swimming with the dancers as slowly as possible, or rather flying behind the camera, suddenly as quick as a bird; without which it had to be done all over again, that is to say, all was lost forever. And when, exhausted by this tension and this effort, Moussa Hamidou laid down his microphone and I my camera, we had the impression that the attentive crowd, the musicians and even the fragile gods who had haunted the trembling dancers had understood the nature of our quest and applauded its success. And that is no doubt why I cannot explain this kind of filmmaking other than by the mysterious term of ciné-transe."

Jean Rouch


“I don’t make films that have stories or characters, really. Fiction isn’t my strong suit, so I tend to err on the side of non-fiction – towards conjuring up the myths and histories that are already existent in the world via actors that are, for the most part, approximations of themselves. In turning people into images, it’s critically important that they have some sort of stake in the process; how this happens varies from film to film, as does the rate of success. Filmmaking is necessarily exploitative, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad, or that the power structure can only operate in one direction. Empowerment happens on both sides of the camera – in producing a consciousness of viewing and of-being-viewed, I hope that I’m able to trouble our unfortunate tendency to mistake images for the world. It’s when we allow ourselves to really see what is in front of us that radical transformations can occur – this is the power of cinema. […] As a viewer, I want to have space and as a maker, I want to produce space. I want my audience to be present, active, involved in the production of meaning. There are all sorts of devices to arrive at this, but to list ‘em outright makes them into a bag of tricks, which they’re not.”

Ben Russell


"For it is again Vertov that I refer to in this state of "ciné-transe" while taking inspiration of course from the vocabulary of ritual dance. No-one can follow a dancer as closely as I do with my camera in an uninterrupted tracking shot without stopping until the final trance where I cross to the other side of the mirror: then the dancer leaves his person to become "the spirit of thunder", or "the rainbow" who "rides" his body and speaks by his mouth (and all that without alcohol or drugs, simply by a bodily technique whose secret we have lost). This tragic metamorphosis, I see it perfectly in the viewfinder of my camera with my right eye while my left eye is on the look-out outside the frame, for the arrival of another dancer, a musician or a priest. This double vision of a film being made and of its environment is not very normal, but better than any hallucinogen, it creates that visual dislocation which makes it possible, no doubt, to cross the threshold into the world of imagination...".

Jean Rouch

Programme presented by Federico Rossin, in the presence of Ben Russell.