• From Kartemquin’s Inquiring Nuns (1969), inspired by Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer

The Gene Siskel Film Center continues its Jean Rouch series this week with his African-shot “ethno-fictions” Moi, un Noir (playing with the short Les Maitres Fous, aka The Mad Masters) and The Lion Hunters. These mid-50s works are some of the most radical experiments ever conducted with the documentary form, and they served as a major influence on the directors of the French New Wave. Of course Rouch was and remains a source of inspiration for documentary filmmakers the world over; in celebration of the current Rouch series, I decided to stop by the offices of Chicago’s own Kartemquin Films to discuss his role in the history of nonfiction filmmaking. I spoke with Kartemquin cofounder Gordon Quinn (whose early film Inquiring Nuns was inspired by Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, which screened in the Siskel series last week) and longtime member Judy Hoffman, who briefly worked with Rouch in the 1970s. Our far-reaching conversation addressed everything from Rouch’s biography—specifically his transition from ethnographer to filmmaker—to his influence on Kartemquin’s output to developments in documentary theory between the 60s and the present. Below is the first part of our conversation; I’ll post parts two and three next week.