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Travels in the Congo: Voyage au Congo
Directed by Marc Allégret
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In 1925, Marc Allégret accompanied André Gide on a journey to French Equatorial Africa, the Congo, as his secretary, and novice filmmaker. Filming throughout their 11-month travels, and only three years after Nanook of the North, Allégret’s goal was to immerse viewers “as we ourselves had been, in the atmosphere of this mysterious country.” 

Unusual for its time Travels in the Congo (Voyage au Congo) is a largely observational documentary (with one dramatized sequence) showing aspects of the lives, culture, and built environments of diverse groups in the region, amongst them the Baya, Sara and Fula peoples, and without trying to shoehorn them into a dramatic narrative.

Travels in the Congo does, of course, retain a certain colonial gaze; in writing about the film, Allégret referred to its subjects as “a humanity without history.” But overall it remains steadfast in its approach, presenting its subjects on their own terms.

After Travels in the Congo, Marc Allégret had a long career as a filmmaker and photographer. André Gide wrote two books about their time in Africa, Travels in the Congo and Return from Chad, and went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Allégret and Gide carried out most of their journey on foot. Porters carried the film’s negatives for months, through extreme heat and humidity. But the nitrate footage survived. In 2018, Travels in the Congo was restored and digitized by Les Films du Panthéon in collaboration with Les Films du Jeudi, with the support of CNC and the Cinémathèque française, and the help of the British Film Institute. This restored version also includes a newly commissioned instrumental score.

“An exceptional work of early ethnography [and] a stark reminder of ethnographic representations’ role in producing and reproducing Europe’s colonial discourse on and about Africa. The quality of the restored images is stunning, and the candid nature of the shots are striking." —Dr. Clovis Bergère, University of Pennsylvania, in the journal American Anthropologist

“An important film for understanding both colonial history and film history in sub-Saharan Africa." 
Dr. Rachel Gabara, University of Georgia, in the journal African Studies Review

“The film that emerged from their voyage stands as a singular account, through its images and their subtext, of the complex and uneasy power dynamics inherent in erotic exchange, between men and women, the young and the old, the photographer and the subject, the colonizer and the colonized." —Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, Light Industry

“'Travels in the Congo' stands as a masterpiece of early ethnographic cinemaIn contrast to both Robert Flaherty’s 'Nanook of the North' (1922) and Leon Poirier’s hit 'La Croisière Noire' / 'The Black Journey' (1926), Allegret wanted his film to be an objective record of African cultures that informed and explained rather than entertaining through adventure and exoticism. Brett Bowles, The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film

Premiere, 2018 Louvre Museum
Official Selection, 2018 Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival
Best Restoration & Preservation Nominee, FOCAL International Awards

117 minutes / B&W
French / English subtitles
Release: 2018
Copyright: 1927

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Subject areas:
Africa, African Studies, Anthropology, Cinema Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, France, Historiography, History, Indigenous Peoples, Literature, Racism, Film History, Cinema Studies, Cultural Studies

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