#390) The Hunters (1957)

the-hunters

#390) The Hunters (1957)

Directed by John Marshall (In collaboration with Robert Gardner)

Class of 2003

The Plot: “The Hunters” chronicles the !Kung people (aka the Ju/’hoansi) of Namibia as they were in the early ‘50s. As the title suggests, this film specifically follows a group of hunters in the tribe as they stalk various prey for food. And when they do finally capture their prey, be warned that things get pretty graphic. Brought to you by your friends at the Film Study Center at Harvard University.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief description, and gives mention to the film’s win at the BAFTAs (more on that later). There’s also a link to the Documentary Educational Resources page where you can purchase the DVD of “The Hunters” for as low as $34.95!

But Does It Really?: I was initially hesitant to include a second Robert Gardner ethnographic film on this list (we already have “Dead Birds”). During my research, however, I realized that despite Gardner’s involvement, the film was actually shot by John Marshall, who is not represented elsewhere on the list. So, despite being very similar to “Dead Birds” in terms of subject and approach, “The Hunters” gets in on a technicality. You win this round, Robert Gardner.

Everybody Gets One: The son of two anthropologists, John Marshall first traveled to the Nyae Nyae region of the Kalahari in 1950. For his second trip in 1951, John’s father Laurence gave him a 16mm camera and advised him to not be artistic with his filming, but rather “just film what you see”. “The Hunters” is John’s first film, and is comprised of footage from several trips throughout the ‘50s.

Seriously, Oscars Baftas The Internet?: Here’s a weird one: several articles (including the NFR write-up) mention that “The Hunters” won Best Documentary at the 1958 BAFTAs, but I can’t find any information from the official BAFTA website that can corroborate this. There was a Documentary category in 1958, but the winner was a film called “Glass”. Where are people getting this information?

Other notes

  • The aspect of !Kung life that fascinated me most was its advanced gender equality. While it is still primarily men that hunt and women who tend to the children, “The Hunters” documents these roles being gender-swapped without difficulty.
  • This film is definitely not for those with a weak stomach or who are sensitive to animal cruelty. Near the beginning of the film we watch a mongoose get trapped and killed, followed by a warthog being poisoned to death. And it only gets worse from there.
  • Something I had never considered: judging the moistness of animal feces to determine if said animal is close by. “Scrubs” was right: everything comes down to poo.
  • Now I’m no expert in ethnographic filmmaking, but wouldn’t a white guy with a big camera be a giveaway to the animals that hunters are nearby?
  • And now we arrive at, for lack of a better term, the meat of this film. Our hunters spend the bulk of the movie pursuing giraffes, climaxing with successfully impaling one giraffe with a poisoned spear, followed by the skinning of its hide and cutting of its meat. This gets real depressing real fast. I did not start this blog so I could watch a giraffe snuff film. Sure it’s accurate to the !Kung way of life, but that doesn’t mean I need to see every second of it. I will gladly take your word for it, Marshall.
  • The only thing that would make watching a dead giraffe worse is if Eric and Don Jr. were posing in front of it. If rich people need an expensive hobby, might I suggest prolific generous philanthropy?

Legacy

  • Upon seeing the final cut of “The Hunters”, John Marshall was worried he had romanticized the !Kung, and was determined to make more realistic films about their culture. These plans were thwarted, however, when Marshall was banned from additional filming by the South African government, who felt the film was “a threat to the status quo”. John Marshall managed to make a few films using outtakes from “The Hunters”, and was finally allowed to return to Namibia once the country became free of South African influence. Marshall also helped create the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia, and continued to be a vocal advocate for the !Kung for the rest of his life.

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