April 27, 2005 by

John K. Marshall


Categories: Education, Hollywood

John Kennedy Marshall, a documentary filmmaker who produced and directed numerous movies about the lives of the Ju/’hoansi people, died on April 22 of lung cancer. He was 72.
The Cambridge, Mass., native always had an interest in Africa. He longed to visit the Dark Continent and read many books about its nations and people. In 1950, Marshall and his father went on a research expedition, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the Harvard Peabody Museum, to find a lost city in the Kalahari Desert of South West Africa (now Namibia). They didn’t discover the missing metropolis, but encountered a group of “wild” bushmen known as the Ju/’hoansi. Upon returning to the region, Marshall and his entire family learned the tribe’s language and culture. The Ju/’hoansi called him “/Toma !osi,” or ”long face.”
Using a 16mm camera, Marshall recorded hundreds of interviews with the men and women of this unique society and studied their use of ancient hunting and gathering techniques. “The Hunters,” his first documentary about the Ju/’hoansi, was released in 1957. Two decades later, he took a PBS crew to South Africa and filmed the television movie “N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman,” which detailed the disintegration of the Ju/’hoansi after they were interned in a government camp and used as a tourist attraction. Marshall’s masterpiece, the five-part, six-hour documentary “A Kalahari Family,” was compiled from more than 1 million feet of film shot over 50 years.
Back in America, Marshall earned degrees in anthropology from Harvard and Yale universities. He worked for NBC, shot the civil war in Cyprus and served as the cameraman for the 1967 documentary, “Titicut Follies,” which exposed the poor conditions at the state psychiatric hospital in Bridgewater, Mass. Marshall cofounded Documentary Educational Resources with Timothy Asch in 1968, and contributed to the Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian Institution.
For his efforts in documentary filmmaking, Marshall received a lifetime achievement award in 2003 from the Society for Visual Anthropology. His career was also chronicled in the 1993 book, “The Cinema of John Marshall” by Jay Ruby.

2 Responses to John K. Marshall

  1. Montreal Children's Art Dude

    Namibia/SW Africa comes up surprisingly often, I find. When I was involved with WUSC in 1990 our focus for the year was Namibia and its upcoming independence, so I got to learn a lot about its modern politics. Then there is the inevitable fact that one has to come across the Bushmen of the Kalahari if you do even a bit of anthropology at university.

  2. Rhyn Tjituka

    It was untill the latter part of 2005 that I saw, for the first time, a documentary about the lives of my own countrymen. Of course, one was not suprised at what was unfolding on film. We all know how worse the Bushmen are kept on the margin.
    Eversince, things are happening for the Bushmen and pledges are also being made. John Marshall,that which you did for the Bushmen has made you seem to be of a pure heart. You have earned your place in history and in heaven.
    My descendants would get your lesson first; for selflesness. Go well.

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