Zero Project Heritage

Cinema Verite began in France and then transformed into Direct Cinema in the US with the main exponents being Leacock & Drew who worked on the seminal direct cinema film ‘Primary’ (60minutes/1960) which also included Albert Maysles who later with his brother were to produce direct cinema classics such as ‘Grey Gardens’ (94minutes/1976). Another exponent of observational cinema was Fredrick Wiseman who is still working today.

Cinema verite can trace its origins to Jean Rouch. In 1946, three friends from Ponts et Chaussées, the engineering school in Paris, descended the Niger River in a dugout canoe. Under the name Jean Pierjean, a combination of each of their names, they sent photos and articles back to Paris to pay their way, and made 16mm films of a hippopotamus hunt that some of their African friends were engaged in. When one of the three — Jean Rouch — lost his tripod in some rapids, they were forced to continue filming with a handheld camera. And thus the early history of cinéma-vérité, a term Rouch would later coin, began to unfold.

Over the next half-century, Jean Rouch would go on to chronicle a period of extraordinary change in Africa, from colonialism through independence and up to the present. His films give us insights into such aspects as possession rituals, social life, and migration, as well as the life of the imagination in this time period. Among his most influential films are the landmark cinéma-vérité film Chronique d’un été, which was shot in Paris. Rouch took an ethnographic approach in his work. Ethnography is defined as the systematic study of people and cultures where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study. Historically it has been problematic as the focus was on looking at other cultures through a dominant Western (and at times colonialist or imperialist perspective) and this is explored in Rouch’s work. It is very interesting that this idea is currently being developed now through the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard. We will be explore this development of Cinema Verite through to Sensory Ethnography and how this relates to the films you will be making in your own Zero Project.


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