Jean Rouch - Premier Film, 1947-1991
by Dominique Dubosc
color & b/w, 27 min, 1991
The director, Dominique Dubosc gives Jean Rouch the opportunity to improvise a new commentary for his first film made in 1947, In the Land of the Black Magi (Au pays des mages noirs) of a Songhay possession dance in Niger. Rouch explains the sacrifices he made due to the producer that took on his film and the monster thus created; his footage was re-edited with a new ending, new titles, stock footage, tropical muzak, and a newsreel-style narration heavy on drama and highlighting the exotic. After viewing the first version, Rouch critiques his own work and puts it in perspective in the context of the time.
Finally, the intelligence and insight of Rouch emerge as he finishes his first film: This is not only an evocation of the beginnings of Jean Rouch, ethnologue and film director - it is his first film. One sees him improvising a new commentary to In the Land of the Black Magi, just as he improvised the voiceovers of most of his other films. The film transforms from a product of colonialism built around the commentary in which you no longer see the images, into a new form in which the film's true meaning is illuminated and the humanity of the subjects restored.