John Marshall began his filmmaking career in the Kalahari Desert in 1950. Later, he studied anthropology at Yale and Harvard universities. In 1957 Marshall developed an approach to documenting the life and culture of a people that incorporated sound and subtitles. His subjects began to speak for themselves. To date, Marshall has produced 26 films from the vast amount of footage he has collected over the years. He has worked to document the life of the Ju/'hoansi of southern Africa and to promote grassroots development projects that support agriculture and recognition of Ju/'hoan land rights.
In 1968, in collaboration with Timothy Asch, John Marshall founded Documentary Educational Resources (DER). Their work forms the core of DER's film archive as well as the basis for the creation of the Human Studies Film Archive at the Smithsonian Institution. Marshall's films have been used worldwide for education and research and he has been honored by film retrospectives in New York, Washington, D.C., Mexico, and Germany.
In addition to his films about the Kalahari, Marshall spent a year filming police work in Pittsburgh and many sequences from that production were used to stimulate group discussion among patrolmen. He also filmed for NBC during the civil war in Cyprus, and filmed and co-directed Titicut Follies with Fred Wiseman.
Throughout the 1980s Marshall lived and worked in Namibia helping the Ju/'hoansi with grassroots development efforts. For the past ten years he has been working on A Kalahari Family while maintaining his involvement with the people of Nyae Nyae.