Les Maitres Fous, and where is your helicopter

Jean Rouch

Johan Grimonprez

· ·
July 30, 2014 8:00 pm

Les maitres fous by Jean Rouch, 35 minutes, 1954, French

This film centers on a stunning ceremony performed in the suburbs of Accra, Ghana (which was still the gold coast, a British colony, when the filming took place). Members of the hauka sect, who were immigrants from Niger (then a French colony), performed it for the camera. There were at least 30,000 practicings in the Ghanaian city of Accra in 1954 when jean rouch was asked by a small group to film their annual ceremony. During the ritual, which took place on a remote site a few hours drive from the city, the hauka went into a trance and became possessed with the spirits of their colonial masters, imitating and mocking their behavior in a grotesque manner. First the French, and then the British banned the cult, but this only encouraged its popularity and it continued to grow until independence. As jean rouch said in an interview, the cult is an African expression of our culture. The title of the film is a pun. It means ‘the masters of madness’, but the British colonial masters are the ones who are mad! There’s an attitude of both mockery and respect in les maitres fous, they’re playing gods of strength’. (Rouch et al., 1978, p.1007).

Kobarweng or where is your helicopter?  By Johan Grimonprez, 25 minutes, 1992, English

Kobarweng or where is your helicopter? Reconstructs the first encounter between a remote village set in the highlands of the island of New Guinea and the outside world. Mainly told through a native narrative, it reclaims the memory of a colonial past. Switching the roles of observer and observed, it is anthropology—and specifically the desire underlying anthropological representation—that is depicted as an object of curiosity destabilized by the villager’s questions. The point of departure was Kaiang Tapior’s question “where is your helicopter?”, a remark which puzzled the filmmaker during his visit to the village of pepera. the question reflected an event which took place in June of 1959, when a crew of scientists, which included anthropologists, dropped down from the sky in helicopters—much to the terrified surprise of the villagers who watched in awe at these things out of the sky, the likes of which they had never seen before. The sudden arrival of helicopters announced a crucial juncture in the history of the village, which Kobarweng critically restages through an examination and juxtaposition of archival anthropological footage and the villager’s testimonies.