Directed by Marc Allégret • Documentary • 1927 • 117 minutes
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 soundtrack.