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Ethnic Portraits and Ethnofiction

by Nohea
Ethnic Portraits and Ethnofiction by Nohea
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… Read more

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.

1920s

1926 – Moana by Robert Flaherty, EUA

1930s

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

1940s

1942 – Ala-Arriba! (film) by José Leitão de Barros. Portugal

1948 – Louisiana Story by Robert Flaherty EUA

1950s

1955 : Les Maîtres Fous (The Mad Masters) bu Jean Rouch, France

1958 : La pyramide humaine by Jean Rouch, France

1960s

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

1970s

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

Recent

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


Louisiana Story


Man of Aran


Colossal Youth

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