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The anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch died in northern Niger on February 19, 2004. At 86 years old, he left behind a legacy of over 120 films, the bulk of which were recorded in West Africa.

Ironically, perhaps, Rouch is best known for the groundbreaking documentary Chronicle of a Summer (1961), which he shot in Paris with the French sociologist Edgar Morin.  Chronicle sought to capture the texture and feel of Parisian life during a particularly fraught moment of French history, to tease out those complexities, and to offer viewers a window into how ordinary individuals were navigating such complicated times. Making use of cutting edge technology and innovative filming techniques, Chronicle launched the cinéma vérité movement and secured Rouch's place in film history. 

But Rouch's work in West Africa was no less revolutionary. Characterized by what he called "shared anthropology" and "ethno-fiction," Rouch's films - even as early as the 1950s - illustrated a profound rethinking of both anthropological and film practice. Collaborating with his African subjects, and combining fiction and non-fiction techniques, his practices blurred traditional distinctions between subject and observer, as well as those between documentary and fiction film.

Inspired by filmmakers like Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North) and Dziga Vertov (Man with a Movie Camera), Rouch was an innovative and important figure in the French post-WWII film scene, working alongside French directors of the New Wave, serving as President of the Cinémathèque française, founding the Comité du film ethnographique at the Musée de l'homme in Paris, and inspiring the Direct Cinema movement in the U.S.  Indeed, in 1968, Jacques Rivette proclaimed: "Rouch is the force behind all French cinema for the past ten years, though few people realize it."

Through his reflexive filmmaking techniques, Rouch not only recorded events, he became an active participant in whatever event he was filming. With his novel and fresh approach, he created an utterly unique theory and practice of ethnographic film which illustrated that - for Rouch, at least - the cinematic experience was first and foremost a shared one.

Jean Rouch n'a pas volé son titre de carte de visite: chargé de recherche au Musée de l'homme.  Existe-t-il une plus belle definition du cinéaste?   
Jean-Luc Godard

-J son