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Out of Africa, Marshall's films thrive

If you've never been to Africa but still carry a vague image in your head of the rural Bushmen of mid-20th century, you probably have John Marshall to thank -- or blame.

Marshall first went to Africa in 1950 under unusual circumstances: His father had arranged a family vacation that was also a research expedition, done in conjunction with Harvard and the Smithsonian. Each family member had a role in documenting what researchers were terming ''the lost Bushmen." Marshall, then a teenager, took the role of filmmaker.

''He turned out to be a natural -- his camerawork was incredible from the get-go," says Marshall's friend and future colleague Cynthia Close. ''The film he ended up making, 'The Hunters,' was from this footage he shot as a kid. It was a kind of iconic film that ended up having tremendous influence."

This was both for good and for worse. ''John regretted the film and spent the rest of his life overcoming it," says Close. He felt, she says, that he had projected his romanticism on these people, depicting them as ''noble savages." But Marshall stayed with both filmmaking and his focus on Africa for the next 50 years, and went on to become a passionate advocate for both.

Marshall died a year ago this month, and will be honored this week by Documentary Educational Resources, the nonprofit film distribution company he cofounded in 1968. Two films will be screened Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts: a newly remastered version of ''The Hunters," and ''A Tribute to John Marshall" (2005, directed by Sandeep Ray). A reception will follow the screening.

The event opens a monthlong celebration at the museum of the Watertown-based DER, which has a library of about 500 films. Among the films shown will be ''Sin Embargo: Never the Less," on April 16 at 10:30 a.m. Close, who is executive director of DER, says ''Sin Embargo" is a feel-good movie about the resourcefulness of Cubans in the face of the US embargo and ''has been incredibly popular with film festival audiences." It's being screened with two short documentaries by recent DER student interns: ''Cheerleader" by Kimberlee Bassford, and ''A Time to Reflect: A History of Whalom Park" about a dismantled amusement park, by Aaron Cadieux.

Details are at 617-267-9300 and www.mfa.org.

CONVERSATION WITH: Concord-based director Barry Hershey will present his 2004 ''Casting About" on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive. The film is a collage drawn from 70 hours of auditions by women from Boston to Berlin for an as-yet unfinished film. The movie, which played the Boston Film Festival last September, was described by Globe writer Janice Page as ''an artful compilation of actress auditions with more entertainment value than most jobs they'll ever land." Details at 617-495-4700 and www.harvardfilmarchive.org.

IN TOWN: Film and media studies professor Laura Mulvey will be visiting from the University of London with two events: a free lecture on Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Carpenter Center Lecture Hall at Harvard, and a screening of some of her experimental documentary work on Friday at 7 p.m. at the HFA. The subjects of her films include artist Frida Kahlo, aviator Amy Johnson -- who flew solo from Great Britain to Australia -- and the huge monuments to communism in the former Soviet Union, which have been slowly disappearing from the landscape.

Mulvey is author of ''Death Twenty-Four Times a Second: Reflections on Stillness in the Moving Image" (London: Reaktion Books, 2005) and co-editor of another 2005 book, ''Experimental British Television." Details at 617-495-4700 and www.harvardfilmarchive.org.

WESTERN MASS: Filmmakers Werner Herzog and Frederick Wiseman will be among the guests Friday and Saturday at the ''Extreme Documentary: Alternative Verite" conference being cosponsored by Williams College and Mass MoCA. Other filmmakers participating in the weekend's events include Hubert Sauper, Simone Bitton, and Tzipi Trope. On Friday, Wiseman will screen his 1968 ''High School" at 4 p.m. at Williams with a Q&A afterward; on Saturday, Herzog will participate in a general panel discussion at 8 p.m. at Mass MoCA about documentaries. The weekend features three other panels as well. Details at 413-597-2425 and www.williams.edu.

SCREENINGS OF NOTE: The films of Hiroshi Teshigahara this week through Thursday at the Brattle Theatre (617 876-6837 and www.brattlefilm.org). . . . ''Mila From Mars," a 2004 film from Bulgaria by first-time filmmaker Zornitsa Sophia, Thursday at 2 p.m. during this last week of the International Women's Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts. The film follows a young pregnant woman who is cared for by a group of pot-growing octogenarians in a small village (617-267-9300 and www.mfa.org). . . . The Fifth Boston Turkish Film and Music Festival next weekend at the MFA with two family dramas about contemporary Istanbul: ''2 Girls," which will have its US premiere on Friday at 8 p.m., and ''All About Mustafa," which is playing Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ''2 Girls" director E. Kutlug Ataman was shortlisted for the Turner Prize of the Tate Britain in 2004 (www.bostonturkishfilmfestival.org).

FOR FILMMAKERS: Registration is open for an eight-week Screenwriting Institute at Boston University that runs from May 18 to July 13 (www.bu.edu/summer). . . . The Roxbury Film Festival is accepting submissions by or about people of color for its eighth annual fest, to be held July 26-30. The early submission deadline is April 14 and the final deadline is May 1 (www.roxburyfilmfestival.org).

Leslie Brokaw can be reached at lbrokaw@globe.com.

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