In 2008, Documentary Educational Resources (DER) donated its collection of 16mm distribution prints—nearly 700 titles strong spanning the dates 1954–2005. The DER Collection is one of the most historically important resources of ethnographic film in the world today. Founded in 1968 by filmmakers John Marshall and Timothy Asch for the purpose of producing and distributing cross-cultural documentary film for educational use, DER was an early innovator in developing media-based curriculum for the classroom.
During the early 1970s, DER concentrated on two major projects. Beginning with the first film produced at Harvard, The Hunters (1957), John Marshall devoted much of his career and life to the !Kung San (Ju/'hoansi) people of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia. Focused on the uniqueness of individuals as much as the practices and dynamics of the groups, his innovative series and those by anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and filmmaker Timothy Asch on the Yanomamo Indians of the Orinoco Region in southern Venezuela formed DER's ethical foundation focused on filmmakers with deep, respectful relationships to those they are documenting. In addition to many short "sequence" films—focused on a single activity or event—a couple of their most celebrated works are John Marshall's N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman (1980) and Asch and Chagnon's groundbreaking analysis on culture and representation The Ax Fight (1975).
In 1975, John Marshall and Timothy Asch were also key figures in establishing the Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian Institution and their bodies of work are among the most significant ethnographic collections within the HSFA.
John Marshall's films about the Ju/'hoansi and his documentation of the Pittsburgh Police (1969-70), as well as the Asch and Chagnon Yanomamo films form the heart of the collection, yet it also includes documentaries made around the world, investigating a wide variety of cultures, including the traditions of the Alaskan Inuit, the colorful folklife of Andalusia, pre-war Afghanistan in the 1970s, the political and cultural diversity in Kenya and the Sahel region of Africa, family life in Northern India, trance and healing in Bali, spiritual rituals in Haiti, music and dance in New England, and a range of films on American life and heritage.
All titles in the collection are catalogued in HOLLIS.
For more information on DER, visit their website.