Scen.: Grace Winter. F.: Dominique Henry, Ella Van Den Hove. M.: Luc Plantier. Mus.: Hughes Maréchal. Infografica: David Nataf. Voci: Anne Coesens, Laurent Bonnet, Thierry De Coster, Benoît Mansion. Restauro e digitalizzazione immagini: Bruno Mestdagh, Mariane Marfoutine. Prod.: Martine Barbé per Image Création.Com, RTBF, Télévision belge-Unité Documentaires, Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. DCP. Bn e Col.
If a man finds himself facing another man, he will say to him: “I am a man. Who are you?” and the other man will answer: “I too, am a man”.
No one knows of him. Books and articles on visual anthropology – a subject that became of great importance in the domain of social anthropology – ignore the fact that there is a Belgian, the Marquis Robert de Wavrin, who figures among the precursors of ethnographic cinema. He is one of the very first to have used a 35mm camera like a notebook to record the habits and customs of the Indians of South America.
Following the height of his fame in the thirties, then his forced retreat from life in the jungle after World War II, he slowly faded into obscurity, which, up until now, has become almost absolute. The fact also that his first film was lost – it has recently been restored by the Cinématèque Royale de Belgique – reinforced this lack of awareness of the importance of his role as a precursor. His second film, Au pays du scalp (In the Scalp Country, 1931), is occasionally cited here and there as a pioneering work, but at a time when ethnographic cinema was already making itself known.
Starting from rushes found in the Cinématèque Royale de Belgique, Grace Winter and Luc Plantier dug deep to reconstruct the history of de Wavrin. He was the first white man to film the Shuars (called Jivaro by the Spanish) at the end of the 1920s. More than 6000 meters of film footage shot between 1920 and 1938 show him to be a renowned explorer and ethnographer. Thanks to the preservation of this cinematographic heritage at the Cinématèque Royale de Belgique, today we (re)discover the Marquis de Wavrin, filmmaker at heart, friend and supporter of the Indians of the Upper Amazonian forest.