Jean Rouch, Chicago, and Kartemquin

"For him, he became a camera-man, literally, and the camera became a celebrant in a possession rite. People could transform with it, and you could [use it] to see inside their souls and various truths."

To coincide with the ongoing revival of legendary French ethnographer and filmmaker Jean Rouch's work at Chicago Gene Siskel Film Center, Ben Sachs of The Chicago Reader sat down with Kartemquin's Gordon Quinn and Judy Hoffman to discuss his role in the history of nonfiction filmmaking. The interview has been published in three parts, all essential reading: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

Among the topics discussed were Judy's close relationship with Rouch when he visited Chicago in the 1970's, including a film project they collaborated on, and his influence on Kartemquin's documentary style and philosophy, including key early works like Inquiring Nuns and Home For Life.

The interview sees Judy and Gordon on top form, and should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about Kartemquin, Rouch (including why he shot all his films handheld), and concepts such as Cinema Verite; Direct Cinema; "shared anthropology;" "inverse ethnography;" the "participant-observer;" authenticity in documentary and so, so much more!

Here's some particular highlights:

From Part 1:
"Rouch's films weren't scripted, but they were rooted in working with an ensemble and making believe. The idea is that cinema isn't only what is, but what if. There's a big difference between that and direct cinema, though in this country we use those terms interchangeably. That's unfortunate, since we never really knew what cinema verite really is. But for Rouch, it wasn't about what the truth was out there, but what the truth was inside the camera, what the camera could reveal." - Judy Hoffman.

From Part 2:
"I think purity can become a dead end. In other words, we saw how important emotion was in changing people's minds [about a subject]. What we saw with Hoop Dreams was that if you could really get someone, grab them by the heart, and create that emotional power, then you can reach out to audiences who aren't already sympathetic necessarily to your characters." - Gordon Quinn

From Part 3:
"I think there's always a tension there between empowering people—giving them the ability to tell their own stories—and also their sophistication about what they want to do on a larger stage." - Gordon Quinn.