Ethnofiction is a neologism which refers to an ethnographic docufiction, a blend of documentary and fictional film in the area of visual anthropology. It is a film type in which, by means of fictional narrative or creative imagination, often improvising, the portrayed characters (natives) play their own roles as members of an ethnic or social group.

Jean Rouch is considered to be the father of ethnofiction.[1] An ethnologist, he discovered that a filmmaker interferes with the event he registers. His camera is never a candid camera.[2] The behavior of the portrayed individuals, the natives, will be affected by its presence. Contrary to the principles of Marcel Griaule,[3][4][5][6] his mentor, for Rouch a non-participating camera registering “pure” events in ethnographic research (like filming a ritual without interfering with it) is a pre-concept denied by practice.[7][8][9][10][11]

An ethnographer cameraman will be accepted as a natural partner by the actors who play their roles. The cameraman will be one of them. He may even be possessed by the rhythm of dancers during a ritual celebration and induced in a state of cine-trance.[12][13] Going further than his predecessors, Jean Rouch introduces the actor as a tool in research.

A new genre was born.[14] Robert Flaherty, a main reference for Rouch, may be seen as the grandfather of this genre, although he was a pure documentary maker and not an ethnographer.

Being mainly used to refer to ethnographic films as an object of visual anthropology, the term ethnofiction is as well adequate to refer to experimental documentaries preceding and following Rouch’s oeuvre and to any fictional creation in human communication, arts or literature, having an ethnographical or social background.


Parallel to those of Flaherty or Rouch, ethnic portraits of hard local realities are often drawn in Portuguese films since the thirties, with particular incidence from the sixties to the eighties,[15] and again in the early 21st century. The remote Trás-os-Montes region (see: Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro Province in Portugal), Guinée Bissau or the Cape Vert islands (ancient Portuguese colonies), which step in the limelights from the eighties on thanks to the work of certain directors (Flora Gomes, Pedro Costa, or Daniel E. Thorbecke, the unknown author of Terra Longe [16][17][18]) are themes for pioneering films of this genre, important landmarks in film history. Arousing fiction in the heart of ethnicity is something current in the Portuguese popular narrative (oral literature): in other words, the traditional attraction for legend and surrealistic imagery in popular arts[19] inspires certain Portuguese films to strip off realistic predicates and become poetical fiction. This practice is common to many fictional films by Manoel de Oliveira and João César Monteiro and to several docufiction hybrids by António Campos, António Reis and Ricardo Costa (filmmaker).[20][21][22] Since the 1960s, ethnofiction (local real life and fantasy in one) is a distinctive mark of Portuguese cinema.











  1. Glossary at MAITRES_FOUS.NET
  2. Types of Cameras – definition at UCLA
  3. Marcel Griaule (1898 – 1956) – Article by Sybil Amber
  4. From Pictorializing to Visual Anthropology1 – Chapter from “Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology”
  5. From Representation to Evocation: Tracing a Progression in Jean Rouch's ‘’Les magiciens de Wanzerbé’’, ‘’Les maîtres fous’’, and ‘’Jaguar’’ – Article by Ted Nannicelli at Taylor & Francis Group
  6. L'ETHNOFICTION A L'ŒUVRE Prisme et images de l'entité dogon – Article (French) by Gaetano Ciarcia at Université Montpellier III
  7. Father of 'cinema verite' dies – BBC news
  8. BIOGRAPHIES: Jean Rouch – Article by Ben Michaels at Indiana University
  9. A Tribute to Jean Rouch by Paul Stoller at Rouge
  10. Ethnographic Film (origines)
  11. Knowing Images: Jean Rouch’s Ethnography <- Chapter from Sarah Cooper's monograph “Selfless Cinema?: Ethics and French Documentary” (Oxford: Legenda, 2006) at
  12. Cine-trance
  13. Cine-trance: a Tribute to Jean Rouch(Visual Anthropology, American Anthropologist)
  14. Jean Rouch and the Genesis of Ethnofiction – thesis by Brian Quist (Long Island University)
  15. Imagining Rurality: Portuguese Documentary and Ethnographic Film in the 1960s and 1990s – Abstract for a conference by Catarina Alves Costa at Comité du Film Ethnographique
  16. African Filmmaker Profiles: Flora Gomes at The Woyingi Blog
  17. The Films of Pedro Costa at Distant Voices
  18. Terra Longe at South Planet (French)
  19. The Portuguese and the “others”: dialogue of cultures and characters in oral literary tradition - Article by Maria Edite Orange and Maria Inês Pinho at Departamento de Artes e Motricidade Humana do IPP – Escola Superior de Educação (Porto)
  20. Things we see: Portuguese anthropology on material culture – Paper by Filomena Silvano at Scielo
  21. Disquieting Objects - Article by Gabe Klinger at The Museum of Moving Image
  22. Ricardo Costa and the Flowing Pictures Archived July 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. – Article by José de Matos-Cruz

See also


Further reading

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