DER Filmmaker

DER founder and filmmaker, John K. Marshall

John Marshall

John Marshall, filmmaker and activist, is best known for his lifetime involvement with the Ju/'hoansi (!Kung Bushmen) of Nyae Nyae in Namibia's Kalahari Desert. John first picked up a camera in 1949, at the age of 17, during the first of several expeditions to the Kalahari organized by his father, Laurence Marshall, the founding president of the Raytheon Corporation. The whole Marshall family - including John's mother, Lorna, and sister, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas - became engaged in a multi-disciplinary study of the Ju/'hoansi. John applied himself whole-heartedly to the task of filming. Between 1950-1958, he shot over 300,000 feet of 16mm film (157 hours). His first film, The Hunters (1957), was an almost instant classic of ethnographic film.

Much more than John's abilities with a camera had developed during those years. He formed a close bond with many of his Ju/'hoan subjects, particularly with ≠oma "Stumpy" Tsamko. ≠oma had welcomed the Marshall family to his band's waterhole at /Gatucha, giving them Ju/'hoan names so that they would not be strangers. He gave John his own name, taught him social customs, hunting, and language, and became a life-long friend. Amongst Ju/'hoansi, John was known as ≠oma Xhosi, ≠oma "Longface". Such a relationship was not viewed kindly by the South West African government, however; in 1958 John was denied a visa extension and forced to leave the country.

During the 1960's and 1970's, John became well-established as a cinema vérité filmmaker. He shot and co-directed Titicut Follies (1967) with Fred Wiseman. In 1968-1969, he shot, edited and directed the ground-breaking Pittsburgh Police series of short films. Other projects, such as If It Fits and Vermont Kids, also employed John's distinct, intimate camerawork to tell stories from the subjects points of view.

Throughout these years, John continued to work with his extensive footage of Ju/'hoansi. He completed 15 short films, as well as the award-winning Bitter Melons. John partnered with filmmaker Tim Asch in founding Documentary Educational Resources (DER), to distribute and support the creation of ethnographic and educational film.

In 1978 John was allowed to return to Nyae Nyae to shoot N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman. Finding his Ju/'hoan friends beset by illness, poverty, and growing social ills, John turned his attentions to development and advocacy work. Virtually abandoning his filmmaking career, John started a foundation to assist Ju/'hoansi and spent most of the 1980's helping them establish water access, subsistence farming, and a local government. He began using film as an advocacy tool, and released several urgent, issue-focused videos to raise awareness of the Ju/'hoan struggle for self-determination.

John continued his documentary record of Ju/'hoansi, directing his final shoot in 2000. A Kalahari Family (2002), his epic six-hour series, tells the story of the Ju/'hoansi from 1950-2000 and charts John's evolution from filmmaker to activist. John continued his advocacy work until shortly before his death in 2005. His legacy - both in film and in the Ju/'hoan community - lives on.

The !Kung series
Argument About a Marriage
Baobab Play
Bitter Melons
Children Throw Toy Assegais
A Curing Ceremony
Debe's Tantrum
First Film
Group of Women
The Hunters
A Joking Relationship
A Kalahari Family
!Kung Bushmen Hunting Equipment
!Kung San: Resettlement
The !Kung Short Films Collection
!Kung San: Traditional Life
Lion Game
The Meat Fight
Men Bathing
N!ai, Story of a !Kung Woman
N!owa T'ama: The Melon Tossing Game
N/um Tchai: The Ceremonial Dance of the !Kung Bushmen (bw)
Playing with Scorpions
Pull Ourselves Up or Die Out
A Rite of Passage
Tug-of-War, Bushmen
The Wasp Nest
The Pittsburgh Police series
After the Game
A Forty Dollar Misunderstanding
The 4th and 5th and the Exclusionary Rule
Henry is Drunk
The Informant
Inside/Outside Station Nine
Investigation of a Hit and Run
A Legal Discussion of a Hit and Run
Manifold Controversy
Nothing Hurt but My Pride
Three Domestics
Twenty-One Dollars or Twenty-One Days
Two Brothers
Vagrant Woman
Wrong Kid
You Wasn't Loitering
Youth and the Man of Property
If It Fits
Vermont Kids
Titicut Follies
Incomplete / Unreleased:
Study of Violence
Wallace Rally
You Are The Problem, a film about a conference on Black Power

Related Resources
Guide to the John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection, 1950 - 2000 at the Smithsonian (PDF)
Smithsonian's web exhibition on the John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection
Press Release: 2009 inscriptions to the Memory of the World Register

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