Frontiers of Film Making

ROBERT GARDNER: Program Coordinator

ROBERT G. GARDNER '48, coordinator of the Visual Studies program in photography, is one of the nation's most important makers of anthropological films. With the backing of the Peabody Museum's Film Study Center, Gardner assisted John Marshall who directed "The Hunters," a now-classic study of bushmen in Southwest Africa.

The film, which shows bushmen hunting a giraffe, was praised by the late Harvard anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, as "the most remarkable anthropological film I have ever seen. It takes the viewer as close as he can ever hope to get to the life of the Stone Age."

In 1961 Gardner led an expedition to New Guinea to study and photograph the Willigiman-Wallalua natives. It was after this expedition that Michael Rockefeller '60 lost his life while collecting art for the Museum of Primitive Art.

The expedition produced material for two books, one by Peter Matthiessen and another -- soon to be published -- by Gardner. But the major product of the expedition is a two-hour documentary of tribal warfare and revenge entitled Dead Birds. Gardner is now completing the editing and sound track.

Gardner entered anthropological film making in 1949. After reading Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture, he made "an honest little documentary" on Benedicts's Kwakiutl Indians.

Trying to earn a living as a film maker, Gardner produced one highly successful short on the artist Mark Tobey, but he was unsatisfied with his work. Returning to Harvard, he received a master's degree in anthropology in 1953. Two years later he joined Brew and Marshall in founding the Peabody Film Study Center. Soon afterwards he assisted with "The Hunters" and initiated a graduate seminar on anthropological film making.

Throughout his work Gardner has given attention to artistic flair as well as to technical competence. He is applying this approach to the Visual Studies program.