Jean Rouch: The semiotics of ethnographic film

Irene Portis-Winner


Jean Rouch (1917–2004) is considered to be the greatest ethnographic filmmaker in the world. His films, which focus primarily on the Songhay of the Upper Niger in Africa, have fundamentally changed the spirit, goals, and methods of ethnographic filmmaking. I ask how Rouch established contact with those he filmed, how his invented semio-ethnic terms and his understanding of twoness and the other informed his practice, and in what sense his films were “shared anthropology” (his term).


film; ethno-time; ethno-fiction; ethno-truth; twoness

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia