- Matthew Turner
- 20 November 2017
Primatologist Jane Goodall is the subject of a fascinating documentary from director Brett Morgen
Directed by Oscar-nominee Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck, The Kid Stays in the Picture), this fascinating and revealing documentary centres on the work of primatologist Jane Goodall and her mission to study chimps in the wild. Handed privileged access to over 140 hours of previously unseen footage, Morgen presents events more or less chronologically, with an 83-year-old Goodall narrating, partly by reading her own accounts (she kept detailed notes) and partly through a lengthy interview with Morgen, shot over two days.
Goodall's story begins in 1960 when she was chosen for a chimpanzee research project by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, who concluded that, as a 26-year-old secretary, she would have no pre-existing scientific bias. She travelled to Gombe, the forest region of Tanzania, where she began a lifelong study of the primates, achieving global recognition for her groundbreaking discovery that they were capable of using tools.
Soon, she was joined by wildlife photographer Hugo van Lawick, who shot the majority of the footage used in this film; initially resentful of his presence, Jane fell in love, with the Dutchman proposing by telegram after he first left Gombe ('Would you marry me? Stop'). They subsequently had a child, affectionately nicknamed Grub, whose upbringing inspired further insight from Goodall into the parenting habits of her subjects and their similarities to humans.
Van Lawick's footage – elevated by a score from Philip Glass, no less – is nothing short of extraordinary and it seems almost criminal that it was kept locked away in a National Geographic vault for so long. Although there are many wonderful moments (for example the apes raiding Goodall's camp for bananas), there are also a number of utterly devastating ones, such as the outbreak of chimp war and a polio epidemic that leaves Goodall (and the viewer) in no doubt that chimpanzees experience grief. Goodall herself is a truly inspirational figure and it won't be a surprise to discover that she is still hard at work today, as a UN Messenger of Peace and full-time ecological activist.
Selected release from Fri 24 Nov.