The Lion Hunters

Included in boxset Eight Films by Jean Rouch.

Shot on the border between Niger and Mali over a period of seven years, THE LION HUNTERS is Jean Rouch's documentation of the lion hunt performed by the gow hunters of the Songhay people.

Opening on the Niger River, the film travels north to "the bush that is farther than far ": the desert region populated by the Fulani cattle herders, who have requested the help of the gow in eliminating a lion, nicknamed "The American" for his cruel cunning, who has been killing their cows.

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As the Songhay society's designated hunters, the gow have developed a series of elaborate rituals to precede the hunt. We see them fashioning their bow and arrows from tree branches, and preparing the Boto poison with which they will coat the arrows, a process accompanied by an astonishing series of dances and incantations.

The gow lay traps, and test the poison on a hyena and a civet cat, but even these measures are not enough to prepare us for their confrontation with the ferocious "American."

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Rouch has said that he made the film "to try to give the audience a feeling of what I myself felt as I was learning the way of the lion hunt". THE LION HUNTERS portrays the immediacy of the hunt, but it also explores the complex social organization that underlies it, and the difficult questions entailed by its representation.

"A film with great ethnographic detail…In The Lion Hunters Rouch is not content merely to challenge us with profound questions of human existence. His film also forces us to reflect on how we categorize experience, how we re-create our sociocultural universe."—Paul Stoller, The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch

"The effort, the success, the masterpiece of Jean Rouch in THE LION HUNTERS stems from the long patience of a filmmaker who through his fascination took the time to wonder how, through its differences, reality has the right to enchant mind and eye."—Sylvie Pierre, Cahiers du Cinema

"Fascinating"—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

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Select Accolades

  • Golden Lion Award, 1965 Venice Film Festival
  • 1965 London International Film Festival
  • 1965 New York Film Festival
  • 1965 Mannheim Film Festival
  • 2012 African Studies Association Conference