Ethnic Portraits and Ethnofiction
JEAN-LUC GODARD once observed that every fictional film is a documentary of its actors. Jacques Rivette finessed the aphorism, proposing that every film is a documentary of its own making, not only a record for posterity of the people in it but also a window into the culture that produced it.
Ethnofiction is a neologism which mainly refers to docufiction, a blend of documentary and fiction film. It’s used in visual anthropology as ethnography. Its object is not the individual but the ethnicity, excepting when the individual represents it.
Jean Rouch is considered to be the father of Ethnofiction. As an Ethnologist, he soon discovers that the camera becomes a participant, always interfering in the event which it registers (the ritual) Going further in his attempts, Jean Rouch introduces the actor as a tool in research. A new genre was born. (Jean Rouch and the Genesis of Ethnofiction – thesis by Brian Quist (Long Island University). Robert Flaherty, «avant la lettre», may be seen as the grandfather of this genre.
Mainly used to refer to films in the domain of ethnology as a branch of science, the term ethnofiction is as well adequate to refer to documentary films in the field of arts with meaningful tradition, preceding and following Rouch’s oeuvre. It may also be useful to designate any fictional creation with an ethnographical background.
Ethnic portraits of local realities are often drawn in the Portuguese films of the sixties. The Cape Vert theme, as a typical expression of Africa, steps into the lime-lights of the eighties with the films of Flora Gomes, Pedro Costa, and Daniel E. Thorbecke, an unknown author: Terra Longe, a remarkable oeuvre, is one of the forgotten fruits of a certain cinema.
You may guess on one hand that the Portuguese cinematography and those of Portuguese expression distinguish themselves by this motive, which gives them a voice in the world of cinema, like the voice of Cesária Évora in the world of music.
Fiction in the heart of ethnicity is something common in the Portuguese popular narrative (oral literature). There is no reason for surprise if, due to a peculiar attraction for legend and surrealistic imagery, ethnofiction strips off her realistic predicates and becomes pure fiction. This fact is common in many films, such as those of Manoel de Oliveira, António Campos, António Reis, João César Monteiro and others. Ethnofiction–real life and fantasy in one–is a distinctive mark of the Portuguese cinema.
Below is a chronological list of examples of notable enthnofictions.
1926 – Moana by Robert Flaherty, EUA
1930 – Maria do Mar by José Leitão de Barros, Portugal
1932 – L’or des mers by Jean Epstein, France
1934 – Man of Aran by Robert Flaherty, UK
1934 – The Song of Ceylon by Basil Wright, UK
1936 – Tabu by Robert Flaherty, EUA
1942 – Ala-Arriba! (film) by José Leitão de Barros. Portugal
1948 – Louisiana Story by Robert Flaherty EUA
1955 : Les Maîtres Fous (The Mad Masters) bu Jean Rouch, France
1958 : La pyramide humaine by Jean Rouch, France
1960 – Moi, un noir by Jean Rouch. France
1962 – Acto da Primavera by Manoel de Oliveira. Portugal
1963 – Pour la suite du monde by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault, Canada
1967 – Jaguar (film), by Jean Rouch, France
1974 – Les Ordres by Michel Brault
1976 – Gente da Praia da Vieira by António Campos, Portugal
1976 – Mau Tempo, Marés e Mudança by Ricardo Costa. Portugal
1976 – Trás-os-Montes (film) by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. Portugal
1979 – O Pão e o Vinho by Ricardo Costa, Portugal
1988 – Mortu Nega by Flora Gomes, Guiné-Bissau
1997 – Ossos (Bones) by Pedro Costa
2000 – No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room) by Pedro Costa
2002 – City of God (film) by Fernando Meirelles
2003 – Terra Longe by Daniel E. Thorbecke
2006 – Colossal Youth (film) by Pedro Costa
2007 – Transfiction by Johannes Sjöbergo
2008 – Our Beloved Month of August by Miguel Gomes
Man of Aran
01Robert J. Flaherty
02Robert J. Flaherty
03Robert J. Flaherty