Nice to talk to you here. A filmmaker I always found to be highly inspiring is Robert Gardner. You must know him as he assisted John Marshall (early on) in his kalahari project. He has made loads and loads of films and has covered quite a few styles over his carreer. An 'old school' must would be 'Dead Birds', and 'Forest of Bliss' is just phenomenal in my view. Debates about the overlap between science and art becomes relevant, especially when watching 'Bliss'. Gardner is controversial, technically very very skilled, thinks outisde of the box, has seen major shifts in personal style of filmmaking, and should provide for a rich source of information and debate in a visual anthropology class.
The uncrowned king of visual anthropology/ethnography is of course David MacDouggal. I have seen "to live with herds", most of the Doon School project (which consist of 5 films, totalling more than 10 hrs if I am not mistaken - much awarded also) and "Gandhi's Children" (2008, 3hrs). All are must sees for students/scholars in vis anthro/ethno and provide base for discussion on MacDouggall's ambition to build on anthropological/social scientific theory without (necessarily) writing about it. Theoretically 'the total institution' and its relation to 'ideology', 'hegemony', 'culture', etc, are amongst the many topics of interest.
I probably don't have to tell you about John Marshall and his kalahari project. Next to MacDouggal, and Gardner an absolute must if you ask me. Not just because his films are 'good', they provide base for a discussion about the role of the camera in scientific knowledge production, and the change of use and theoretical perspectives over in filmmaking over the years (his work spans more than 50 years right?).
Above are my 'heroes' in visual anthro/ethno. Although I very much appreciate 50s/60s Direct Cinema from the USA. Maysles' (bible) salesmen f.e. Also, the total institution, notably the mental hospital, seems to be a recurrent theme (Allan King - Warrendale; Weismann - Titicut Follies, etc)
When are you back in SA btw?