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 cameraperson, in this view, will be accepted as a natural partner by the actors who play their roles. The cameraperson will be one of them, and 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. [14] [15] [16] [17]

A new genre was born.[18] 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,[19] 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 [20][21][22]) 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[23] 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.[24][25][26] 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. ^ Ethnofiction and the Work of Jean Rouch, article by Reuben Ross, UK Visual Anthropology, November 9, 2010
  15. ^ Videos about ethnofiction on Vimeo
  16. ^ Blurred Boundaries: Ethnofiction and Its Impact on Postwar Japanese Cinema – article by Jennifer Coates, MDPI, February 2019
  17. ^ Coming of Age as Other: Indigenous People in the Ethnofiction Film ‘The Dead and The Others’ – article at CINEA, 14 december 2018
  18. ^ Jean Rouch and the Genesis of Ethnofiction – thesis by Brian Quist (Long Island University)
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ African Filmmaker Profiles: Flora Gomes at The Woyingi Blog
  21. ^ The Films of Pedro Costa at Distant Voices
  22. ^ Terra Longe at South Planet (French)
  23. ^ 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)
  24. ^ Things we see: Portuguese anthropology on material culture – Paper by Filomena Silvano at Scielo
  25. ^ Disquieting Objects - Article by Gabe Klinger at The Museum of Moving Image
  26. ^ Ricardo Costa and the Flowing Pictures Archived July 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine – Article by José de Matos-Cruz
  27. ^ Terra Longe, David & Golias

See also


Further reading

External links

Africa Speaks!

Africa Speaks! is a 1930 American documentary film directed by Walter Futter and narrated by Lowell Thomas. It is an exploitation film.

Ala-Arriba! (film)

Ala-Arriba! is a 1942 Portuguese romantic docufiction set in Póvoa de Varzim, a traditional Portuguese fishing town.

Dealing with ethnographic matters, it may be considered as an ethnofiction. The film was directed by Leitão de Barros, and stars real fishermen as themselves in order to give a realistic view over traditions and social behaviours of the community. Focusing the cultural context, it continuously shifts from documentary to drama, by means of a fictional narrative. Contemporary to Robert Flaherty, Barros is with him one of the first filmmakers to explore docufiction and ethnofiction as forms of dramatic narrative.

It premiered at São Luis Theatre in Lisbon.

Ana (film)

Ana is a 1982 Portuguese independent docufictional and ethnofictional feature film, written, directed and edited by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. It was filmed in Trás-os-Montes like António Reis' previous film, Trás-os-Montes. The film was selected as the Portuguese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 58th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.

Colossal Youth (film)

Colossal Youth (Portuguese: Juventude em Marcha, literally "Youth on the March") is a 2006 docufiction feature film directed by Portuguese director Pedro Costa. The film was shot on DV in long, static takes and mixes documentary and fiction storytelling. The third feature by Costa set in Lisbon's Fontainhas neighborhood (after In Vanda's Room and Bones), Colossal Youth is a meditation on the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution and its consequences for Portugal's poverty-stricken Cape Verdean immigrants. It was part of the Official Competition at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

Dead Birds (1963 film)

Dead Birds is a 1963 documentary film by Robert Gardner about the Dani people of New Guinea. It was produced as part of the Harvard-Peabody Expedition to study the highlands of New Guinea, at that time one of the few remaining areas in the world uncolonized by Europeans.The premiere of Dead Birds took place at the Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University in October 1963.

In 1998, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In Vanda's Room

In Vanda's Room (Portuguese: No Quarto da Vanda, 2000) is a docufiction (a subgenre of cinéma vérité) film by Portuguese director Pedro Costa.

Les maîtres fous

Les maîtres fous ([le mɛtʁ fu], "The Mad Masters") is a 1955 short film directed by Jean Rouch, a well-known French film director and ethnologist. It is a docufiction, his first ethnofiction, a genre he is considered to have created.

Man of Aran

Man of Aran is a 1934 Irish fictional documentary (ethnofiction) film directed by Robert J. Flaherty about life on the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland. It portrays characters living in premodern conditions, documenting their daily routines such as fishing off high cliffs, farming potatoes where there is little soil, and hunting for huge basking sharks to get liver oil for lamps. Some situations are fabricated, such as one scene in which the shark fishermen are almost lost at sea in a sudden gale. Additionally, the family members shown are not actually related, having been chosen from among the islanders for their photogenic qualities.

George Stoney's 1978 documentary How the Myth was Made, which is included in the special features of the DVD, relates that the Aran Islanders had not hunted sharks in this way for over fifty years at the time the film was made. Man of Aran is Flaherty's re-creation of culture on the edges of modern society, even though much of the primitive life depicted had been left behind by the 1930s. It is impressive, however, for its drama, for its spectacular cinematography of landscape and seascape, and for its concise editing.

Moana (1926 film)

Moana (pronounced [ˈmo.ana]) is a 1926 American documentary film, or more strictly a work of "docufiction" that was directed by Robert J. Flaherty, the creator of Nanook of the North (1922).

Moi, un noir

Moi, un noir ([mwa œ̃ nwaʁ], "Me, a Black [person]"; also released as I, a Negro) is a 1958 French ethnofiction film directed by Jean Rouch. The film is set in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Mortu Nega

Mortu Nega (English: Death Denied or Those Whom Death Refused) is a 1988 historic film by Flora Gomes, a director from Guinea-Bissau. Mortu Nega was Gomes' first feature-length film. This is the first docufiction, more precisely the first ethnofiction, from his country that shows, in an expressive and touching way, the experiences of the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence. This film blends contemporary history with mythology, in this case African mythology. Mortu Nega was the first film produced in independent Guinea-Bissau. Its world premiere was at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 1988.

Nanook of the North

Nanook of the North (also known as Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic) is a 1922 American silent documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty, with elements of docudrama, at a time when the concept of separating films into documentary and drama did not yet exist.In the tradition of what would later be called salvage ethnography, Flaherty captured the struggles of the Inuk man named Nanook and his family in the Canadian Arctic. Some have criticized Flaherty for staging several sequences, but the film is generally viewed as standing "alone in its stark regard for the courage and ingenuity of its heroes."In 1989, Nanook of the North was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

O Pão e o Vinho

O Pão e o Vinho (English: Bread and Wine) is a 1981 Portuguese documentary feature film produced and directed by Ricardo Costa, his second docufiction after Changing Tides (Mau Tempo, Marés e Mudança) – 1996/7.

The third is Mists (Brumas) - 2003.

Like Changing Tides, Bread and Wine may as well be classified as ethnofiction.


Ossos (English: "Bones") is a 1997 Portuguese film directed by Pedro Costa.

The film was shot in the Fontainhas district of Lisbon (also known as "Estrela d'Africa"), where disadvantaged dwellers and immigrants from former Portuguese colonies in Africa live desperate lives.

The story's focus is on a young girl and her lover who become parents of an unwanted baby.

Their ambiguous tendencies keep this downbeat story moving around the shanty town.

The director's ascetic style and this district's faded cityscape emphasize the depressing tone of the film.

This drama film with some documentary elements made Pedro Costa acclaimed internationally.

It was nominated for Golden Lion prize at the Venice International Film Festival in 1997.

He further dealt with the now-defunct shanty district in his next film, No Quarto da Vanda.

Pour la suite du monde

Pour la suite du monde (also known as For Those Who Will Follow; Of Whales, the Moon, and Men, or The Moontrap in English) is a 1963 Canadian documentary film directed by Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière and Pierre Perrault. It was entered into the 1963 Cannes Film Festival.

Rango (1931 film)

Rango is a 1931 American quasi-documentary film directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and released by Paramount Pictures.

The Forgotten Village

The Forgotten Village is a 1941 American documentary film—some sources call it an ethnofiction film—directed by Herbert Kline and Alexander Hammid. The film was written by John Steinbeck, narrated by Burgess Meredith, and with music by Hanns Eisler. The film was released by the film distribution partnership of Arthur Mayer & Joseph Burstyn.

The New York State Board of Regents, acting as the state's board of censors, banned the film in New York due to the film's portrayal of childbirth and showing a baby at its mother's breast.The film depicts the conflicts between traditional life in a Mexican village, and outsiders who want to introduce modernization.

Trás-os-Montes (film)

Trás-os-Montes is a Portuguese independent docufictional and ethnofictional feature film, written, directed and edited by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro and released in 1976. It takes its name from the Portuguese region of Trás-os-Montes from which the film emanated.

Related concepts
Groups by region
Multiethnic society
Ideology and
ethnic conflict
By style
By theme
By movement
or period
By demographic groups
By format,
or production

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