John Marshall

John Kennedy Marshall is and American anthropologist and acclaimed documentary filmmaker, most known for his work in Namibia. His work focused mainly on the lives of the Ju/’hoansi also known as the !King Bushmen. His first travel experience to the Kalahari Desert was meeting the Ju/’hoansi of the Nyae in 1950 on a trip organized by his father in search of the “Lost World of the Kalahari”. His films anticipated the cinema verite movement of the 1960s, which focuses on depicting reality as his films combine documentary media and ethnographic film. His shooting style evolved to reflect his position within the filmed society, which is that of the participant as opposed to the outside observer.

John MarshallHis filming career essentially took off when he took his 16mm Kodak camera on his second trip to the Kalahari to conduct an ethnographic study of the Ju/’hoansi and record one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer cultures. Thus from 1950-1958, Marshall focused on filming their life and his first edited film entitled The Hunters was released in 1957. The film portrayed the Ju/’hoansi in their everyday life along with their constant struggle with nature. Yet at the time the Ju/’hoansi were clashing with the modern world, struggling to find food. The film however made Marshall determined to produce more objective, and less mediated films about the Ju/’hoansi. Consequently, he created a series of short films designed to educate without “exoticizing” or “imposing western narrative structures on the subject”.

However, during the 1960s and most of the 1970s, Marshall and all other anthropologists were banned from visiting the Ju/’hoansi by the government. As a result Marshall made short films with his previously collected in 1950s and also pursued various film projects in the US. In 1968, he and Tim Asch founded Documentary Educational Resources, an NGO dedicated to facilitating the use of cross-cultural documentaries within classrooms. Marshal also took part in grassroots organizing and development in Nyae Nyae in the 1980s, leading to the creation of what would become the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia. Due to his devotion, in 2003, the Society for Visual Anthropology gave Marshall a lifetime achievement award for his 50-year of work among the hunter-gatherer society. Known as the John Marshall Ju/’hoansi Bushman Film and Video Collection (1950-2000), the entire collection was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register for documentary heritage of world importance in July 2009.

The Hunters (1957) – From the !Kung series

N!ai : The Story of a Kung Woman 


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