Articles, Blog

The Cinema of Patience: Reflecting on N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman

evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m Jeffrey Quilter, director
of the Peabody Museum. And it’s my pleasure to
welcome you here tonight. Thank you all for coming for
this amazingly stellar event, sponsored by the Peabody Museum
of Archeology and Ethnology in collaboration with the
Documentary Educational Resources or DER, that it’s
often referred to in the film and museum communities. DER is an internationally
recognized center for documentary, anthropology,
and ethnographic film, and a leader at the intersection
of documentary filmmaking and social science research. Its mission is to distribute,
produce, and support ethnographic and
documentary media that foster cross-cultural
understanding and empathy and prioritize
underrepresented voices. 2018 marks the 50th
anniversary of DER. And we’re delighted to celebrate
its outstanding work for five decades this evening,
while we explore the legacy of filmmaker, John
Marshall, and his influence on the development of an
ethnographic educational personal and activist
documentaries. John Marshall, founder of DER
in 1968, together with Tim Ash– so it’s very
fitting to celebrate DER’s are his legacy
with a program that honors its founder. I would like to note an
upcoming event on October 24. Professor Rowan Flad
will discuss the earliest archaeological
evidence from China that documents the
Silk Road origins. Following this discussion
this discussion and filming, we invite you to join us in the
galleries of the Peabody Museum on the third floor
for a reception. Aside from having
a glass of wine, you’ll have a chance to see
our new exhibit, Kalahari Perspectives, Anthropology,
Photography, and the Marshall family, curated by Peabody
Museum, Visual Anthropologist Lisa Barbash. It’s now my privilege
to introduce Alice Apely, executive
director of DER, who will introduce
tonight’s film and program. Alice has served as
executive director of Documentary Educational
Resources since 2011. At DER, she oversees all
day to day activities, including curation, marketing,
exhibition, and exhibition of works in DER’s catalog. She also ensures ongoing
access to the collection for broad audiences through
new digital strategies. She’s worked as director,
producer, and advisor on numerous documentary
film projects, including serving as director
with David Tames of the film Remembering John Marshall. Prior to joining DER, Alice
conducted audience research, program evaluation,
and impact studies for media museum and
community engagement projects. She served as a board
member for the society for visual anthropology and
as juror and coordinator of the SVA’s film festival. She holds an MA,
PhD in anthropology, and a certificate in the culture
and media program from NYU. Please join me in welcoming
Alice to the stage. [ALICE APLEY:] So it’s wonderful
to be here to celebrate our 50th anniversary. DER’s prehistory and
that of tonight’s film really have its roots here
at the Peabody Museum. And so it’s
especially meaningful that we celebrate our 50th
anniversary with you all here. John Marshall’s footage from the
1950s was made during a series Marshall family expeditions
to the Kalahari sponsored by the Peabody Museum
along with the Smithsonian. And John’s first
film, The Hunters, was edited in the basement
of the Peabody Museum with Robert Gardner in what
was to become the film studies Center. DER is delighted to be
celebrating 50 years. We’ll be rounding out
the events in Cambridge with screenings at the HFI
tomorrow night in New York City at the Margaret Mead
film festival next week and in California
with a special program on Tim Ash at the University
of Southern California and programs at the American
Anthropological Association meetings in San Jose. I’d like to invite
you to take a brochure about our 50th
anniversary on your way out and get on our mailing list. And we’d love to
know if you’d like to get involved with the
organization in any way. So first I want to thank
my many partners at Harvard with whom we’ve been working,
including Pamela Durante– I don’t know where people
are– there she is– and Diana Munn and
the others here at the Harvard Museums
of Science and Culture, and the staff of the Harvard
Film Archive and the Harvard Art Museums. As a small organization,
it’s a pleasure to work with the
well-oiled machinery and extensive resources
of the different entities here at Harvard. Also, a big thanks go to Lyda
Kuth and the LEF Foundation who have generously sponsored
our 50th anniversary events and who share with
us a deep commitment to the local
filmmaking community, both past and present. Finally, thanks to the DER
staff and board without whom any of this would be possible. The decision to screen N!ai, the
Story of a !Kung Woman as part of our 50th anniversary
celebrations was an easy one. Not only is it
exemplary of John’s work and DER’s priorities, it is
likely our most popular title. In 2017, on Canopy, which is
one of the educational streaming platforms through which our
films are available on college campuses, it was played
6,589 times for a total of 101,000 minutes watched. Its equally popular
on Alexander Street, which is the other big
streaming platform. According to World Kat, 37
colleges and universities own film prints. 137 own DVDs. And I’m sure there are
also still VHS copies in use, seriously because we get
requests for upgrades from VHS from time to time. So immediately after the
screening of N!ai today, we’ll be sharing about four
minutes of some video recently sent to us from
Tsum!kwe by Chris Lowe, a British anthropologist, who
has been working with a group in Cape Town to start
a San Heritage Center. And he recently
visited Tsum!kwe . So we have a little treat
at the end of the screening. So finally, before
we start the film, I’d like to invite Sue
Cabezas to come up. And Sue is part of the panel. So she’ll get a full
introduction later. And she’s going to share
a message from Lexie Marshall, who is John’s widow. [SUE CABEZAS:] It gives me
enormous pride and pleasure to join in this celebration
of Documentary Educational Resources 50th anniversary. Legend has it that
DER’s origin began in the basement of
the Marshall’s home at 4 Bryant Street in
Cambridge in the late 1960s. From then on, Tim
Ash and John Marshall pursued their aspiration
to create and preserve outstanding ethnographic cinema. This half century
anniversary marks the success of this endeavor. John Wood, this evening, be
basking in pride, satisfaction, and gratitude as this tribute
commemorates a job well done. Congratulations to DER to
executive director Alice Apley and to all this organization’s
friends, participants, and supporters for the finest
gift that could possibly be awarded to John. Alexandra Marshall.” [APLEY:] We have a
wonderful panel tonight, which I hope will stimulate some
discussion about the long-term success of N!ai. We’ve set this up
as a conversation, though, we’ll be going
around hearing from each of the panelists and
reserving a few minutes at the end for questions. I want to acknowledge that
there are several Kalahari scholars in the
audience, as well as friends of John’s and DER. And they also hold important
pieces of the history and the story of the !Kung and
hope that whatever doesn’t come out during the discussion today
will continue later during the reception. So I’m going to just
introduce the panelists. And then we’ll go around
again and talk a bit. So on my left immediately
is Sue Carbezas. And she’s currently the
executive vice president of Applewood Books. And before that she was
executive director of DER from 1974 to 1993. And during that time she served
as producer for N!ai the Story of a !Kung Woman, as well as
many other projects at DER. On my right is Ross McElwee. He’s made 10 feature
length documentaries, including Sherman’s
March, Bright Leaves, and Photographic Memory. His awarding winning
films focus on his family and personal life. He’s a professor of
practice of filmmaking, department of visual and
environmental studies at Harvard. Ross spent a month
in the Kalahari– I think it was a month– with
John Marshall in 1978 shooting material for what
would become N!ai. On my far left is
Michael Ambrosino best known for
creating Nova, which is about to present
its 45th season on PBS. He was also the creator and
executive producer of Odyssey, which is where N!ai
premiered on television. He’s the executive producer
of the Ring of Truth and consulting executive
producer of Eyes on the Prize. And his last production– [MICHAEL AMBROSINO]::
Consulting executive. [APLEY:] Consulting executive
producer of Eyes on the Prize. His last production
was as producer and on air correspondent
for Frontline in the West Bank and
Gaza entitled Journey to the Occupied Lands. And finally, on my
far-right is Lisa Barbash. She’s curator of Visual
Anthropology here at Harvard’s Peabody Museum and a
co-filmmaker of Sweetgrass with Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Based on her most recent
book, Where the Roads All End, Photography and Anthropology
in The Kalahari, she has curated the exhibition
Kalahari perspectives, anthropology, photography,
and the Marshall family, which you’ll have a chance to
see following the screening or following our discussion. So a quick note, the title
for today’s event, The Cinema of Patience, comes
from a tribute to John written by
Sandeep Ray and published in Chimurenga, a South
African literary magazine. Sandeep had been a student
of John’s at Hampshire and then went on to work as an
editor on A Kalahari Family. And Sandeep explains what he
means by a Cinema of Patience. He writes, “John had always
felt that the best way to make films was to patiently
follow a character until you had enough footage that
you got under their skin.” He noted that “John rarely used
a tripod and his camera work was amazingly steady and smooth. Whether he was filming
the Ju/hoan in Africa, policemen in Pittsburgh,
members of an insane asylum in the classic Titicut
Follies with Fred Wiseman or following the
election campaign of the mayor of
Haverhill, Massachusetts, John remained steady and
quiet, taking it all in.” Sandeep writes “that John liked
to say that in a good film you have to leave
the theater feeling that you’ve met someone.” So I just wanted to
open with those thoughts and then turn to
Sue who was involved as the producer, co-producer
with John to get a sense of how did this film come about,
because we see in the film that there was footage from
the 1950s and then footage in the ’70s. [CABEZAS:] Thank you, Alice. So I was so fortunate to
have had an opportunity to meet John in 1974. And to begin to develop
a working and friendship relationship with him
over many, many years. I started working with John
as an administrative assistant when a mutual friend told me
that there was this filmmaker that she knew who was looking
for somebody to help organize his life. And she said give him a call. And I did, and I told him
who I was and said who I knew and that I heard he was looking
for somebody to help organize his life. And he stopped, and he thought. And he said, really, well,
maybe that is a good idea. Why don’t you come
in and let’s meet. So we had– that all
was the beginning of my many, many years of
working with John and with DER with Tim and the beginning
of my understanding about what had
happened with John. He was a young man, who’s 17
years old and asked to take a camera and become part of
this enormous and momentous longitudinal film study and to
become the documenter on film of the !Kung. So it was a wonderful
opportunity. And I had a chance to meet
with John for many, many years and talk wonderful– get stories from him,
understand a lot about where he was coming from
and his passion to document for the
people, to allow them to document
for themselves what their life was really like. And you’ll see, in this
film, the combination of through that period of time
of what that was all about. One thing that really hit me
when I saw this again tonight was that this was not the end
for John’s involvement with the !Kung. It was the beginning of
yet another era of advocacy that John felt was something,
in my estimation, anyway, he felt that it was something
that he wanted to do, was held to do and
relished in it. He had many, many years
subsequent to the editing of this film, engaged in
documenting medical history, working with a number
of other people who had gone back with him
to film over and over again. And so his legacy, as
far as I’m concerned, was the longitudinal nature of
his filming and his involvement and his love of the people. [APLEY:] Great. So he was actually banned
from returning to Namibia in the ’60s. But can you fill us in on
how did he then come about and what were sort
of his intentions from what you could see
in making this film? [CABEZAS:] So what
I think– and again, this comes mostly from
conversation, observation, and I think friendship–
was that on the heels of the Bushmen of the Kalahari,
which was filmed in 1972-3 and came out in 1974, that
film was a film that was not necessarily the type of film
that John wanted to produce. It was a film that
was a narrative. It was actually managed,
run by the BBC– National Geographic excuse me. And John was a big
player in that. And I think that when he came
back and that was finished, he really wanted to
be able to continue to do the types of films, which
were the sequence films that he had developed along with
Tim Ash in that style as an educational
tool for people to be able to make their own
observations about what they’re seeing on film. And I think, in some
ways, as a reaction to that those narrative
films, John wanted to go back and continue
the documentation and came back from the
shoots in the 1970s to be able to create
more sequence films. He had done another pull
ourselves up or die out. He’d done a number
of videos that came out after all of this. And I really believe that
it was a continued interest in pursuing the
documentation and allowing the people who are
in the films to be able to speak for themselves. [APLEY:] Great. So let’s turn to Ross to
hear a little bit about what it was like to actually
be in the field with John and shooting with him and
what you as a filmmaker took away from that experience. [ROSS MCELWEE:] I could really
connect to that comment someone made about John really needed
somebody to organize his life. Part of the reason I felt
John didn’t need help with organization–
all filmmakers do, but he was so passionately
riveted on the way these people were living and trying to record
it in a way that was honest and straightforward and
true, that he became– he had tunnel vision about it. And he was never
happier, it seemed to me. And I knew him certainly– I got to know him better
after this film shoot, but we come back to Cambridge. I would it end up at various
events or dinners with him. And I always felt he was nowhere
nearly as comfortable here as I had seen him in the Kalahari. And I think that was
his family down there. That really was his family. And he wanted to honor what
his family’s lifestyles were like and also what
was happening to them. As time went on and
geopolitical forces started to reshape what was
happening in South West Africa, what is now called Namibia. It’s interesting for me
to see that clip that was shot in, I guess,
2018 I’m sure by two well-meaning anthropologists. But I was immediately struck
by the difference in which they filmed N!ai and her husband. They were shooting down on him. And that’s not a big deal. You could still
understand what they were interested in talking about. And that all was very evident,
but it represents for me a difference in the way
that most filmmakers had dealt with filming other
cultures for many, many years. And I think John’s
insistence on getting down at the level of the
people he was filming is both literally and symbolic
of the way that he approached his film making. And I certainly learned a
lot by watching his films, but also in being down there
and watching him do filming. And for me, it was a
tremendous honor to be there. It was the thrill of
a lifetime really, because I one year
out of having finished film school and suddenly
here was this opportunity. And I will never forget
that whole event. I mean, I could talk forever
about the different things that happen on different
days, but maybe you should direct the conversation
a little bit at this point. [APLEY:] Well, maybe you could
share one story about what it was like being in the field
with him and perhaps we talked a little bit also about this
idea which the anthropologists and filmmaker David McDougal
has about that the cultural environments that shaped
the filmmaking style. Is there, I don’t
know, anything that you saw that resonates with that? [MCELWEE:] Well, I mean I could
just pick the first day I was there to tell the story
of what that was like. But I had flown on a fairly
quick notice, two days notice, either accept this
position or not. And I said I’ll go. Flew to Madrid, changed planes,
flew to Windhoek changed planes again, took a small Cessna that
landed on a dirt road somewhere near Tsum!kwe . And I’d been flying or encased
in steel capsule fuselages for 30 hours at that point. [CHUCKLES] And I was very tired. And John said, why don’t you
take the day off tomorrow? We’ll just calmly introduce
you to what’s going on here. And you won’t have to do
any shooting tomorrow. Well, the morning,
when I woke up, there was a tremendous racket. There was a huge
argument going on. And it was, in fact, that scene
in which N!ai’s daughter has been accused of
being unfaithful. And that fight went
on an entire day. It was eight hours of shooting. And I just kept filming. John said, don’t stop. Film everything you can. Both of us were shooting
different aspects of what was going on. And I think I shot more
film in that one day. This is film, not video. So there was a constant process
of changing magazines, one 10-minute load and getting
another 10-minute load and trying to parse
that out and shoot that. It went on nonstop for
that entire fight, which was so complicated, and so
many different people weighing in on who was guilty, who
wasn’t, who was to blame. And I had no idea what
the hell was going on– [LAUGHTER] –and also found I was
invisible with my camera, and that nobody seemed
to at all be concerned that I was shooting. And it was just an
amazing experience. And so I filmed
where emotions seemed to be the strongest, even
though I had no idea who the main characters were. I didn’t know what was at stake. I didn’t know what they
were arguing about. But because they’re so
expressive as people, there was another way in which
it was fairly easy to film. And so that was
literally my first day. And then I was allowed
to be tired the next day and get the rest
that I never had. But it was an amazing
experience to be with John. And over and over again,
the longer I stayed, I could see that he
had earned his right to be there and
film these people. And more than just
that, they adored John. They thought of John as
their son or their father, depending on which
generation they were. And it was really gratifying
to me to be in that world. And then, of course,
John was determined not to romanticize their lifestyle. He very much wanted to do
filming that had to do– that addressed the
changes that were being forced upon the reservation. And so that became
part of our filming. And it was incredible to see
his footage, which I actually haven’t seen in
quite a long time. And so for me, it was like– suddenly it was 30 years ago. It was just incredible. [APLEY:] That’s great. Thanks. So let’s turn to Michael. So it’s quite remarkable
that this film, in the end, it was made for
television, which is quite a departure from
John’s earlier films, right? Like other– the !Kung films
he was making right before that were really for the classroom. So there’s quite a story
behind the origin of Odyssey and its connection to NOVA. And can you tell us a bit
about how it got started? [AMBROSINO:] OK. NOVA began in 1974. PBS paid my salary
and gave me to the BBC in 1970-71, which had happened
to everybody in their life. I discovered that they were
doing in features group programs dealing with the
process of how things happened. And their science
program did that. And I came back to start NOVA. It took about two
and a half years to develop and raise the money. And we started making
programs about how people use the
process of discovery to find out how
the world worked. We didn’t consider
it a science series. We were trying to find
out how the world worked. We used many topics, and
we used many techniques. There were two plays done
in the first three years. There was an archaeology
and an anthropology program done in each of the
first three seasons. And the reason that we’re
celebrating the 45th season in 44 years is because we made
two seasons in the first year, because I felt that
we had to impress upon the stations of PBS that
real stories about real people was as important as the
music, the drama, the dance, and the ballet, which
was the darling of PBS and was easy to fund. No science company funded
NOVA, except Polaroid, in our backyard,
run by four people. You could talk to all of them. And they were a big help. [APLEY:] Odyssey– so then,
yeah, how did Odyssey start? [AMBROSINO:] NOVA formed
Odyssey as a complement to Nova. Odyssey was going to
be about the peoples of the past and present, using
archaeology and anthropology. And it was a personal
mission, almost, because I felt that the world
was concerned with the other. And when they talked about the
other or thought of the other, they thought of primitive,
and they thought of savage. And we are all
the descendants of intelligent, competent,
courageous, creative, artistic people. And I wanted to demonstrate
that the peoples of the past had all of those attributes. We made two seasons of Odyssey. Reagan cut the public
television budget 40%. And the stations had to vote
between NOVA and Odyssey. I came back from an awards
ceremony at Columbia University and told the staff that
we were shutting down. It was a very bad day. [APLEY:] And now I’d love to
hear how this film ended up being an Odyssey film. And I know you have some
notes from Adrienne Miesmer. And I also just want to
share some numbers here. Just to give you an idea
of the editing process, the total amount of
footage from the 1950s was 333,500 feet, or
157 hours of film. And from 1978, from
the shoot there, there was another 150,000 feet,
or 69 and 1/2 hours of film. [CHUCKLES] [AMBROSINO:] I’d known John
and loved him for years. But he invited me to
come to an editing room, because he thought that
Odyssey was the perfect place for this film. I expected something between
an assembly and a rough cut. And what I saw was a
room full of film cans. [LAUGHTER] And he and Adrienne would
pull pieces to show me, so that what we were
seeing was a five-hour list of possibilities. We agreed that this is something
that could be made into a film. My only contribution was John
was so convinced that he had to show you what was happening
at Tsum!kwe that most of what he wanted to show was that. I felt that in order
to show what was lost, there had to be more material
of the normal life of these intelligent, creative people
in the bush who were living at peace and were living rather
well before they were forced off their lands into Tsum!kwe . And that was about it. [APLEY:] Did you want to share
some of what Adrienne Miesmer shared about– [AMBROSINO:] Yes. [APLEY:] So Adrienne
was the editor. [AMBROSINO:] Adrienne
couldn’t be here, so she and I have been having
a conversation over the last couple of days to figure out
what I remembered and what she remembered. And I am here as her agent. I want her to participate. “When John asked if I would
go with him to take sound on the film he was proposing to
do, I was instantly on board. His mission was to find N!ai
and any family left of her band. Before we left, I screened
some of the old footage so I could get a sense of the
past work he and his family had done, which was legion. It took hours and
hours simply to log it. We would continue with this
process when we returned. I’ll never forget
the moment we arrived after a 25-hour
series of flights and being held up in
Johannesburg airport for the day to get the
film gear released. We were finally allowed
to fly on to Windhoek. From there, our trucks fully
loaded with fuel, supplies, and food, we drove to the
area in Tsum!kwe that John had sleuthed out as the most likely
place where N!ai and her family might still be. Really, it was a needle
in a haystack chance. But he was typically optimistic,
typically determined, typically brave. It was already sunset when
we parked the vehicles by the side of the
road and were starting to walk down the long dirt
path into the bush when John saw a small group
of men walking toward us. It was old– and I’m not going
to do it with the clicks– Toma and /Gunda. And John went nuts,
ran to them and they to him, lots of embraces, tears,
as I recall, so very moving. The entire band joyfully
welcomed his return and were so generous about
our moving into their lives and filming them. He was distraught by the state
of affairs among the !Kung group we filmed. They were largely confined
to camps in Tsum!kwe, situated near enough to TB
outposts for them to get help. They were terribly
poor, still mostly lived in skerms or makeshift
huts, fires polluting their every breath. They were eating some canned
food and other handouts from the government
but mostly mealy meal. Only a ghost of the traditional
way of life was still in place. Nobody was really hunting
or seriously gathering or regularly practicing
their medicine. While there, John asked /Gunda,
N!ai’s husband to do a healing ceremony and one of the young
men to lead a giraffe hunt to supplement the
earlier footage he had. He filmed ordinary
daily life as well, conducted interviews,
recorded disputes. These scenes from 1978 could
then be intercut with the old footage from when N!ai was small
and the band still truly living the old way of life. A few of the younger men
stood up to the camera and berated the government
for taking away their land rights and their way of life. But for the most part,
there was a pervading sense of helplessness. At the time, the Ju/’hoansi
were being conscripted to fight for the South African army,
SWAPO, against the Anglicans, as I recall. They were great
trackers and no doubt were given some minimal
amount of money. The saddest aspect of
that, John observed, was that wearing a uniform and
being paid and occupied actually made them proud– well, some of them. And he knew they were being
used and could be killed. Because N!ai was a common
thread in all this, miraculously being alive and
still in the area with her husband and grown daughter,
we had a great loom on which to thread the film. We recorded her and
her activities daily. Because of this, she was
accused by the others of being opportunistic, a not
unexpected outcome, from all the attention she was getting. There were fights over
her being favored, jealousy being a trait
common among this group, as well as among most
everybody else, I guess. John was a natural-born,
intuitive filmmaker, knew enough to get N!ai to
make up a song about her plight and sing it to the camera. I think this footage was seminal
and set the ball rolling. It was so compelling. We couldn’t not use it. ‘Death is dancing with
me now,’ she sang. Wow. We nearly fell out of our boots. My recollection
of the early days of editing, including
the marathon syncing up and continued
viewing and logging of miles of film, new
and old, which took stupendous amounts of time. Many mornings, John
was pacing around DER as we fretted over how to create
a film worthy of the song. There was a good deal of
footage of the old ways, from the 1950s shoot,
as he rightly recalled. The problem was how
to integrate all of that with the miles of
film John brought back, which we eventually did. Your encouragement to help him
do so helped him, no doubt. In a significant way, what the
!Kung were going through is so typical of the dismantling
and endemic ways of life around the world. John knew this. But because of his earlier,
very real relationship with this particular
group, he took everything that happened
to them very personally. We were lucky that you
decided that N!ai was worthy of inclusion in Odyssey. It gave John both the national
exposure and some capital to work with. He is and was one of my favorite
human beings on this planet– all heart, no bullshit.” [LAUGHTER] That’s Adrienne Miesmer. [APLEY:] Wonderful. Thank you. So last, I want
to turn to Ilisa, who’s going to talk a bit
about the reception of N!ai, starting with when you
were a graduate student. [ILISA BARBASH:] Yeah. It’s actually amazing to hear
all of you talk about N!ai, because I feel as if I’ve been
living with N!ai since 1988 or ’89, when I
first saw the film. And it completely mesmerized
me as a graduate student. It was shown in an ethnographic
film class for aspiring ethnographic filmmakers. And it followed the canon
of ethnographic film, which was Robert Flaherty’s
Nanook of the North, John Marshall’s The Hunters,
Robert Gardner’s Dead Birds, Tim Asch and Napoleon
Chagnon’s Yanomami films, and Jean Rouch’s Jaguar
and Les maitres fous, and Gregory Bateson and
Margaret Mead’s Trance and Dance in Bali. And you’ll notice that
among all of those films, there are very
few made by women. And for me, as a woman
graduate student, it was really, really
wonderful to see a film about the lives of
women, because many of the films we’d been
seeing not only were by men but were about men’s lives. And as late as the
new millennium, I was reading a
manuscript by someone who was analyzing a
photographic archive. And he said, well, the
reason why there are so many photographs here of men is
because men’s lives were more important. And I flagged this as something
that should be amended. And it was amended to say that
“the relative absence of women results from both the interests
of the researchers and the fact that they themselves were male
with limited access to women.” So that is one reason
why I love N!ai. Other reasons are that N!ai
doesn’t, as some of us have talked about, leave
people in the past. And I think that’s very
important in anthropology. I think that the records that
Asch and Chagnon, Flaherty, and others have made are
exceedingly important. But they’re historic. And all too often, people are
left in their historic past in ethnographic film classes. And what John Marshall
and Adrienne Miesmer did was to pull
people out of the past and to situate their
lives in the present so that certain forces
that affected their lives, and as Michael said,
all too many people’s lives in the world. Colonialism, which included
land grabbing and religion and conscription into armies,
all of these affected people’s lives, as well as filmmakers
affected their lives and created a kind of change. Also, this is an important
film in anthropology because it addresses the trend
in the 1980s of reflexivity in anthropology, where
anthropologists stopped acting as if they had
no impact on the people that they were
researching, but in fact needed to acknowledge
their own positions vis-a-vis the subjects. And this was done in writing. And this was done in filmmaking. And you can see it through
this film because of the direct address to the
camera that N!ai has. We’re not pretending that
she’s not being filmed. We know this. And the camera is head-on, as
Ross says, engaging with her. There’s also a critique of
filmmaking implicit in the film through the somewhat sort of
hilarious scenes of The Gods Must Be Crazy. And in this, we’re not only
seeing the problematic nature of feature filmmaking. But I believe that
John was also thinking that we’d think,
oh, yeah, so what does that mean for
ethnographic filmmaking? Maybe we need to take
a more critical stance when we’re looking at
ethnographic films as well. [APLEY:] Yep. Great. [AMBROSINO:] Please explain that
the film that we were watching being made was
that feature film. [BARBASH:] Yes, The
Gods Must Be Crazy. [AMBROSINO:] Which was
tremendously popular. [BARBASH:] Yes. [AMBROSINO:] It was a box
office hit all around the world. [BARBASH:] Well, when I have to
explain who the people are that I’ve been doing research on
and doing the photographic exhibition that we’re
going to see on, I say, have you seen The
Gods Must Be Crazy? It’s those people. [APLEY:] Yeah. Yeah. And what have you
found about how the film was received both
academically and by the public? [BARBASH:] I think,
academically, I’ve taught with this film,
and I find that students often identify with N!ai,
especially female students. I think to have this
very honest protagonist in a film is really engaging. She talks about
issues that most of us wouldn’t want to put in a
film, like her sexuality and her fears and strife
within her community. It’s a much more honest
kind of presentation than I’ve seen in a lot
of ethnographic film. I have had instances
where students have been very upset at
the degradation that’s portrayed in the film. And I know Peter Loisos who’s
written about this film, has also commented on this. And I had a student once
walk out of the classroom, because she was so upset about
what was going on in the film. If we have time, I can talk
about a couple of reviews that I found of N!ai. [LAUGHS] [APLEY:] Do we have to
get out right at 8:00? I wanted to open now. Can we open it up to a few
questions from the audience? [BARBASH:] Why don’t we do that? [APLEY]: Yeah. Does anybody have any questions
for anyone on the panel? [AUDIENCE:] So this is a general
question to anybody who was there and observed it. So this wasn’t– oh, sorry. So in other words,
the work that John did was not scripted beyond saying,
let’s have a giraffe hunt or let’s have a
healing ceremony? Because it doesn’t always seem
to me compellingly obvious that there’s no
scripting involved. [MCELWEE:] Well, I can
speak based upon what I saw. I wasn’t there for the entire
thing, the entire shoot. And also, the shoot went
on over a number of years, if you count all the
old footage that he had. I know that John did encourage
Toma– was it Toma also– [APLEY:] Toma. [BARBASH:] Toma. [MCELWEE:] –to
hunt for a giraffe. That might not have happened
without John’s encouragement. So that’s a good point. And so you could
say, in that way, maybe the film isn’t
quite as honest as we would like for it to be. But then, what is honesty? How do you– [AUDIENCE:] I
wouldn’t say honest. I would say spontaneous. There’s so little difference. [MCELWEE:] But much
of it is spontaneous. And all the fight scenes, the
healing scenes, the hunting and gathering scenes that
appear in the early footage is all spontaneous. John was just being
very alert to what was happening and
capturing it as it unfolded in front of the camera. I think what he realized was he
had to sort of start directing a little more than
he had in his life. A little bit presumptuous
of me to say this here, because I don’t really know
the whole history of the prior shooting, the prior filming that
he did in South West Africa, in Tsum!kwe. But I think that he realized
there were too many issues here that needed to be
pointed out, especially to an American
television audience. And those were
possible malnutrition that was now happening,
because people were having to eat mealy meal. They couldn’t hunt
and gather the things that used to keep them
relatively healthy. The presence of SWAPO,
the South West African People’s Organization, which was
waging war against South Africa and beginning to move into
Namibia and the presence of more and more tourism
and, of course the presence of the South African
army on the reservation, the fact that the !Kung were
prevented from moving around as much as they had. All of those
things, he felt, had to be illustrated
before it was too late. So he set some
things up, I believe, to sort of illustrate
those points. Does that seem fair? [CABEZAS:] Oh, I wasn’t there,
so you know definitely more than I. What I think is that he
probably had gone with an open mind about– I think he really
didn’t know quite what he was going to find
when he went back in ’78. And as was described, as
Adrienne had suggested too, finding the people,
in and of itself, was quite an amazing feat. And I’m sure that John,
when he got there, saw things that
completely repelled him, and things that excited him,
and also things that he wanted to let the world know about. And I think that probably
in his desire to be honest, I think he felt that
those things needed to be represented. And so to that
point, I think, Ross, I would completely concur
that that would probably be what would have happened. [BARBASH:] I can speak a little
bit to the early footage, because I’ve done research on
the era between 1950 and 1961, when John went back about six
times within that to be with N!ai and her family and other
people you see in the film. And at one point,
from 1952 to ’53, he lived there for over a year. So that’s one of the
things that makes this such a remarkable
body of ethnographic work is that he lived
with these people. He worked with his
family, with these people. He saw them every
day over years, for continuous amounts of time
so that he could anticipate what they might be doing. I do know that certain
things were reenacted in the beginning, because
they didn’t have the capacity to shoot things that
were happening at night. So the marriage between N!ai and
Gunda actually happened while– they just didn’t see it happen. So that was reenacted. And the trance dance, it’s very
clear that they go into trance. But normally, trance
dances did happen at night. But I wouldn’t call that faking. I would call that a kind of
cooperation in which people worked with John to share
their lives with him on film. [APLEY:] Yep. Great. Another question? [AUDIENCE:] When in
the filmmaking process, if this is known, did John
decide to make this about N!ai, or for her to be the
central character? Was that known
before 1978 or not? [MCELWEE:] I’m not sure I’m
qualified to answer that question. N!ai was already the center of
attention when I arrived there in July of 1978. Sue. [CABEZAS:] Well, I think that
from what I could gather, that when John went back
in ’78, he never shared– with me, anyway, but that
doesn’t mean anything– [CHUCKLES] that he was actually
going in search of N!ai. And he was going
in search of Toma. He was going in search
of Tsamko, Gunda, N!ai, the entire family
and their band, and wanting to see
what had happened. N!ai was clearly a person
who was somebody that was charismatic, who was
outspoken, spunky, all of these things that
make for a wonderful dramatic character. My guess is that when John got
back there and saw what was going on and saw the
relationships that were happening and the fact that
there had been other film companies who were
going and were paying, such as the company that was
doing The Gods Must Be Crazy, that N!ai was already a
celebrity in her own right in that regard as well. So my guess is that it
was probably a combination of serendipity and history. [MCELWEE:] It’s also John
had that uncanny ability, which filmmakers do develop,
if they’re lucky, over time, of being able to
identify star attraction, star presence before the camera. Some people have it. Some don’t. N!ai had it. And he did short films too. Like Joking Relationship,
that little short film, is N!ai and her uncle. [CABEZAS:] Yeah. [MCELWEE:] Right? So a portion of that
appears in N!ai, the film that we just saw. But that means, way back
then, when that was filmed in the late 1950s, I guess– [BARBASH:] ’57, I think, or ’58. [MCELWEE:] –that John
already knew she was special. And that doesn’t mean he
knew he was going to end up making a film about her. But she was one of the
four or five people that John was already focusing
on with his filmmaking and did create a number of short
films based upon those people early on. [CABEZAS:] There may also be
other people in the audience who have perspective on this
that may be able to add. We’re just a few people up here. So if anybody else does,
it might be a good idea– if there’s factors
or observation, it might be helpful to hear
it from other people too. [AUDIENCE: INAUDIBLE] contribute
so much as to hope that some of the Kalahari experts
you spoke about being in the audience might
have something to say. And what I would
most like to hear, either from them or from you,
is you did say something about N!ai’s spunky personality. And I was disappointed
that nothing of that showed through in the
recent clip that you had. And I was wondering whether
gender roles, family roles have shifted in a
non-egalitarian direction, because since they left
off living the old way, from reading Elizabeth
Marshall’s book, my impression was not that
men and women were equal in the old days, that it
was sort of proverbial that men are better, even then. But there still seemed to be– as we saw in the earlier
footage and N!ai today, there was a good deal of
autonomy resistance possible for women. And then one didn’t
really see that in the clip done this year. But that, of course, was short. [APLEY:] Yeah, I guess I would
hesitate to extract too much from that 2018 clip. I think this was a
visiting anthropologist who didn’t have the kind
of relationships that John had with
the characters. And we thought it was important
to include this little bit, partly to speak to what Ilisa
brought up earlier about this is a community. They’re still alive. They’re still there, and we
feel like it’s really important, particularly with
ethnographic films, to remind people that
these are living people. Yeah, I can’t say more about
the changes in gender relations. [MCELWEE:] One of the changes
is that 30-something years have gone by. [APLEY:] Yeah. [CHUCKLES] [MCELWEE:] So she’s probably
slowed down a little bit. She certainly has the right. [AMBROSINO:] Also, there is a
profession called filmmaking, and John was a filmmaker. And he knew how to get a story. He knew how to make
people understand that he was there to
be that good fellow who was making the story. And he did so. And I think you
also saw the craft. And N!ai became
a story because– well, N!ai is unique. Granada Television made
many, many ethnographic films for television. I know of none that covered
the life of a human being over that period. And that’s why it
became an Odyssey. [APLEY:] Yeah, well, the length
of footage from the 1950s to the ’70s is
really exceptional. And of course, the Kalahari
family covers 50 years. And that’s even
more exceptional. [CHUCKLES] Yep. Final question? [BARBASH:] Do any of the
Kalahari experts hiding in the audience want to– [LAUGHTER] –answer about what may have
happened with gender roles at this point? [APLEY: LAUGHING] We’re
just staring at Robert. Yeah. [LAUGHING] [AMBROSINO:] He’s got a beard. He’s got to be an expert. [LAUGHING] [AUDIENCE:] A question to
Sue, Marjorie Shostak’s Nisa, what influence did
that have on the film? [CABEZAS:] I’m
sorry, at what age– [AUDIENCE:] Marjorie
Shostak’s Nisa, which was the bestselling
ethnography at this stage, what impact did that have
in the making of the film? I think it was
probably just before. [CABEZAS:] I think that
there were extensive parts of the interviews that Marjorie
had had with Nisa that she and John had talked a lot about. They had a very close
relationship about what was going on with young
women in among the !Kung. And I know that there were
a lot of conversations about what were the important– kind of the dynamic human
elements of a girl’s life. And Marjorie was just
such a wonderful person to be able to bring that
out and to, I think, encourage John also to be
thinking maybe in a way that was a little bit different. I don’t know that that
answers the question. [CHUCKLES] [AUDIENCE:] OK, [APLEY:] Yeah. You know, I don’t know
specifically about when N!ai became the focus in the film. But just thinking about
the timing of it, yeah, Nisa came out, I don’t
know, in ’76 or something? It says in the credits that the
interviews with N!ai were based on the interviews with Nisa. And I know that John was
always going back and looking at the shortcomings
of earlier works and trying to address
those in the next works. And from what I
understand, there was criticism of The
Hunters was man, the hunter. And we’re talking ’70s,
second-wave feminism. And there was a lot of
interest in women’s lives. So I don’t know specifically,
but clearly, it was the moment to do a women’s story. Yeah. [AUDIENCE:] Yeah, just wanted
to have a quick comment, speaking not as an expert– [AMBROSINO:] Can’t hear you. [APLEY:] Hold your
mic up higher. [AUDIENCE:] Oh. Speaking not as an
expert, but as a Namibian, one of the things which
just brings tears to my eyes every time I see this film– and I teach it frequently,
and what’s interesting, talking to American
students, what’s the most distressful
scene you see in the film? You know what they say? [AMBROSINO:] The sand. [AUDIENCE:] Killing the giraffe. [SOFT GASPS] Anyway, as a
Namibian, let me say, what I love about this film is
the stuff which John captured which he didn’t realize
he was capturing, like the broad, big
bureaucratic desk with the guy with his wife. And the reason for
that is the guy, Mr. Jonker is an alcoholic
who’d been sent there as a punishment posting. The other thing which
strikes me and which just brings tears to my
eyes, the final scene when the soldiers are leaving
on the truck ostensibly is equal to whites with equal
salaries, what they’re wearing are white school cadet caps,
stressing their inferior status [APLEY:] Thanks. [QUILTER:] Can we thank
our panelists and then– [APPLAUSE]

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