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The filmmaker and ethnographer Jean Rouch died in northern Niger on February 19, 2004. At 86 years old, he left behind a legacy of over 120 films, the bulk of which were recorded in West Africa.

Rouch's interest in Africa began during World War II when, in 1941, he was sent to the French colony of Niger as an engineer from L'ecole des ponts et chaussées. In 1947 he filmed his first piece in Africa: In the Land of Black Magi. Over the next several decades, Rouch continued filming in Africa while working as a research director for the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

In 1960 Rouch labeled his filming style cinéma vérité. Inspired by filmmakers like Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North) and Dziga Vertov (Man with a Movie Camera), Rouch was an innovative and important figure in the French post-WWII film scene, working alongside French directors of the New Wave, serving as President of the Cinémathèque française, founding the Comité du film ethnographique at the Musée de l'homme in Paris, and inspiring the Direct Cinema movement in the U.S.

Rouch's work in Africa is characterized by "shared anthropology" and "ethno-fiction" and all his films illustrate a keen rethinking of both ethnography and filmmaking. Combining fiction and non-fiction techniques and often integrating a sort of documentary surrealism, Rouch's practices blur the traditional distinctions between subject and observer as well as those between fiction and documentary film.

Through his reflexive filmmaking techniques, Rouch not only recorded events, he became an active participant in whatever event he was filming. With his novel and fresh approach, he managed to visually articulate a theory of ethnographic filmmaking which illustrated that - for Rouch, at least - the cinematic experience is first and foremost a shared one.

Jean Rouch n'a pas volé son titre de carte de visite: chargé de recherche au Musée de l'homme.  Existe-t-il une plus belle definition du cinéaste?   
Jean-Luc Godard

-J son