LES MAÎTRES FOUS
Jean Rouch, France
1955, 27 min 51 sec
Les Maitres fous is about a ceremony performed for the camera by the Hauka, a religious sect that was widespread in West Africa from the 1920s to the 1950s. There were at least 30,000 practicing in the Ghaniain city of Accra in 1954 when Jean Rouch was asked by a small group to film their annual ceremony. During the ritual, which took place on a remote site a few hours drive from the city, the Hauka went into a trance and become possessed with the spirits of their colonial masters, imitating and mocking their behaviour in a grotesque manner. They are also shown speaking in tongues, frothing at the mouth, handling fire, reaching into boiling water without being burned, and eating a dog. The effect is both fascinating and unsettling. Indeed, the colonial authorities were perturbed enough by the scenes portrayed that they banned the film in 1955 and it remains controversial to this day.
Jean Rouch was one of the founders of cinema vérité and a pioneering ethnographer. He was devoted to Africa and spent most of his five decades as a filmmaker documenting the lives of its peoples. Avoiding sentimentality or condescension, he recorded what he saw; always respecting the veracity of the image in relation to the reality filmed and genuinely concerned with the fair treatment of his subjects. Much of Les Maitres fous’s distinctive appeal comes from the juxtaposition between Rouch’s laid-back, objective narration and the sensational imagery of what we are watching. In his commentary he asserts what has become the standard interpretation of the ritual – that it is a parody of the colonial occupation, with the Hauka focusing their disdain for their white masters into exaggerated appropriations of their masters’ ceremonial rites and dress and manners. Some anthropologists have criticised this analysis, arguing that the imitation in the ceremony is a way for the indigenous people to gain rights and status in the colonial society; their adoption of the European customs not so much a form of resistance, more a way to be respected by the Europeans. As the Hauka movement died out soon after the film was shot, we will probably never know for sure the precise meaning of the witnessed ritual.
Whatever its true significance, the scenes captured in Les Maitres fous hold a visceral power that has proved enduringly influential on Western culture. Jean Genet wrote his play The Blacks (1959) in which blacks assume the role of masters, after seeing Rouch’s film, and Peter Brook’s staging of Peter Weiss’s play Marat/Sade (1964) was influenced by the theatricality and spontaneous language of Hauka possession. The ritual’s very ambiguity gives it a universality beyond its immediate time and place. Even the title is open for interpretation – are the Africans the masters of madness in the way they behave or is it the British and their ceremonial displays who are the mad ones? Rouch encourages such speculation as he cuts between a parade ground and the Hauka mimicking the rigid gestures of the Governor and his troops. Les Maitres fous has been called the “greatest anti-colonialist movie ever made,” yet when it was first shown in Paris, there were some who asked that it be destroyed fearing that it confirmed every stereotype held by Westerners about “savages.” Yet however it might be interpreted, the desire of the powerless to break free and overcome their situation through shamanistic ritual is common to all civilizations. As Jean Rouch himself described the Hauka ceremony: “This violent game is only the reflection of our civilization.”
Dennis O’Rourke, 1988, AUSTRALIA
1 hour, 07 min, 07 sec
Cannibal Tours is a documentary by Australian director and cinematographer Dennis O’Rourke. The scenes in it are presented without comment, but its irony and disquiet at the nature of ‘cannibal tourism’ is blindingly obvious.
The soundtrack of the film is a mixture of music, sounds of nature, and a symphony of camera shutters.
The film follows European and American tourists as they travel the middle Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Most of the villages in the film are inhabited by the Iatmul people. The tourists enjoy bargaining for local handcrafts such as woodcarvings and baskets, snap endless photos of the colourful savages, hand out cigarettes, watch dance performances, and offer naive comments about native people and how they live in harmony with nature.
HISTORY AND MEMORY:
FOR AKIKO AND TAKASHIGE
Rea Tajiri, USA
1991, 5 min 10 sec
Groundbreaking and haunting, this film is a poetic composition of recorded history and non-recorded memory. Filmmaker Rea Tajiri’s family was among the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. And like so many who were in the camps, Tajiri’s family wrapped their memories of that experience in a shroud of silence and forgetting.
Ruminating on the difficult nature of representing the past – especially a past that exists outside traditional historic accounts – Tajiri blends interviews, memorabilia, a pilgrimage to the camp where her mother was interned, and the story of her father, who had been drafted pre-Pearl Harbor and returned to find his family’s house removed from its site.
Throughout, she surveys the impact of images (real images, desired images made real, and unrealized dream images). The film draws from a variety of sources: Hollywood spectacle, government propaganda, newsreels, memories of the living, and sprits of the dead, as well as Tajiri’s own intuitions of a place she has never visited, but of which she has a memory. More than simply calling attention to the gaps in the story of the Japanese American internment, this important film raises questions about collective history – questions that prompt Tajiri to daringly re-imagine and re-create what has been stolen and what has been lost.
MAN OF MEDIA
Francis Jupurrurla Kelly, Ronin Films, Australia
2019, 2 min 51 sec
Francis Jupurrurla Kelly, a proud Warlpiri Lawman, producer of highly regarded TV programs such as Bush Mechanics, Manyu Wana and Coniston, was a key figure in the foundation of the Warlpiri Media Association. The Association is operating to this day as PAW Media (Pintubi, Anmatjere and Warlpiri Media), from its base in Yuendumu, about 300km north-west of Alice Springs in central Australia.
In 2016 Jupurrurla was elected Chair of the Central Land Council (CLC) to represent the Indigenous people of Central Australia in the Northern Territory. His commitment and contribution as an ambassador for Aboriginal people resonates throughout Australia, having a profound impact on many Indigenous lives.
This film follows Francis as he performs his various roles in official capacities and as a respected leader, film-maker and role model within his community of Yuendumu.
With privileged access to archival material from the 1980s to the present day, the film tells a rich and colorful story of a man, his work, his family and the life of his community.
To this day Francis continues to document history through film so that story and culture can be preserved, and for audiences all over the world to understand more about his people, their struggles and their dreams.
Director, Producer, Writer, Sound Recordist and Music composer –
Josef Jakamarra Egger
Photography – Shane Mulcahy
Editor – Stuart Liddell
Commissioned by NITV and produced by CAAMA Productions, Alice Springs.
Don Featherstone, Australia
1986, 29 min, 20 sec
Babakiueria (also known under the video-title Babakiueria (Barbeque Area)) is a 1986 Australian satirical film on relations between Aboriginal Australians and Australians of European descent. Babakiueria revolves around a role-reversal, whereby it is Aboriginal Australians who have invaded and colonised the fictitious country of Babakiueria, a land that has long been inhabited by white natives, the Babakiuerians. (Note that the capital K spelling used above is incorrect.) The opening scene depicts a group of Aboriginal Australians in military uniforms coming ashore in a land they have not previously been to. In this land, they discover a number of European Australians engaged in stereotypical European Australian activities. The Aboriginal Australian explorers approach the group and the expedition’s leader asks them, “What do you call this place”? One of the Europeans replies, “Er… ‘Barbecue Area'”. After around 200 years of Aboriginal occupation, white Australians have become a minority. Aboriginal people have assumed power, taken all of the available land and have mostly confined whites to suburban ghettos. They are expected to follow the laws and customs of the colonisers and their lifestyle is seen through the patronizing eyes of the majority culture. The latest manifestation of this is in a ‘documentary’ presented by Duranga Manika (Michelle Torres). The remainder of the film follows Duranga Manika as she observes how white people are disempowered through poverty, are treated unfairly by the police – often with brutality and indifference, experience arbitrary dispossession, government inaction on white issues, white tokenism, white children being taken from their families only to be taught the values of the majority culture and white people being relocated because the government needs their home for “something”. White people are now often characterized by society and in the media as lazy, unintelligent and untrustworthy and anyone who protests about the current circumstances is labeled as a ‘troublemaker’. White rituals and cultural values are derided and dismissed as violent and meaningless. The Babakiuerian government’s paternalistic policies are defended by Wagwan, the Minister for White Affairs (Bob Maza) who was based on the then Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. The inversion of reality in Babakiueria highlights the unfairness of Australia’s past and present Aboriginal policies and the entrenched racism in society. This subversion of normality allows viewers to see what is wrong when one group tries to control and dominate another and questions the fairness of the current power structure in Australia.
MY CRASY LIFE,
DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A SOMOAN GANG
1 hour, 48 min, 19 sec
Jean-Pierre Gorin’s gripping and unique film about a Samoan street gang in Long Beach, California, is, like other works by the filmmaker, a probing look at a closed community with its own rules, rituals, and language. Part observational documentary, part fiction invisibly scripted and shaped by the director, My Crasy Life, which won a special jury prize at Sundance, is an enthralling and intensely focused contemplation of violence and dislocation.
Jean-Luc Godard, 2009, VENEZUELA
6 min 15 sec
Tribute to the Palestinian poet Mahomoud Darwish (Palestinian 1941 – USA 2008) made by Canaan, a relief association for the Palestinian people, in Caracas, Tribute to the Palestinian poet Mahomoud Darwish (Palestinian 1941 – USA 2008) made by Canaan, relief association for the Palestinian people, in Caracas, Venezuela.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
Steven Spielberg, 1988, USA
2 min 42 sec
It tells the story of Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO). Close Encounters was a long-cherished project for Spielberg. In late 1973, he developed a deal with Columbia Pictures for a science-fiction film.
THE VIDEO MESSAGE
Roy Villevoye, 2010, Netherlands
4 min 38 sec
In The Video Message Omama talks about what happened to him after he collaborated on the development of the life-size, realistic statue that Roy Villevoye made of him: Madonna. The core of the story is that by participating in the project he sold his soul. Not in the figurative sense as we mean it, but literally. By selling this reproduction of his likeness he lost himself. Moreover, the further consequence was that his bond with the community and his family were broken. According to Omama his recent illness was also the result of this. Not only what he says, but also how he tells it leaves a strong impression. Omama is completely himself and is in no way influenced by the camera. In fact, it is as if the eye of the camera – and therefore our presence as a viewer – does not matter. That, whilst creating an image, is exactly what the story of Omama is about. It is this symmetry in particular which gives this video its strength and clarity.