A documentary by Brett Morgen. Rating unavailable
At 83, Jane Goodall has achieved such emeritus status for her lifelong study of chimpanzees, and her advocacy for animal rights, virtually any look back is bound to be worthwhile. But that conclusion doesn’t prepare the viewer for just how astounding Jane is.
The success of this life-affirming doc is built on the fact that writer-director Brett Morgan—known for showbiz profiles like The Kid Stays in the Picture and Cobain: Montage of Heck—was given access to more than 100 hours of footage taken in the early years of Goodall’s work, in Tanzania’s Gombe animal preserve, and then forgotten for more than 40 years. Shot on 16mm and cleaned up to a digital lustre with near-HD quality, the images were captured by Hugo van Lawick, a Dutch nobleman and wildlife photographer sent by National Geographic to record the “Comely Miss Who Spends Time With Apes”—as one early-’60s headline speciously put it.
It was a lucky break for both, especially since Goodall—reading on the soundtrack from her numerous books and journals—recalls being “not the sort of person who ever gave any thought to marriage and motherhood”. (Jane does, however, admit to being obsessed with Tarzan as a child.) Both followed in short order, and their romance is part of the story on film. “It was clear that I was also a person of interest, along with the chimps,” she says of the many scenes of her winsome, fair-haired visage gazing out over the bush. Goodall exuded an earthy glamour, knew it, and agreed to exploit her image for the good of the animals she came to follow, and then adore.
Her personal life saw occasional turmoil, as did the chimp tribe she settled down with, and we come to identify with the multigenerational saga of David Graybeard, Goliath, and Flo, and her daughter Fifi—some of whom don’t make it through Goodall’s half-century study. Neither does van Lawick, seen incessantly smoking, much to his young mate’s annoyance. Sometimes cluttered by needless effects and with voices occasionally obscured by Philip Glass’s music, the 90-minute doc doesn’t tell you that emphysema eventually killed him—although not before he catalogued some of the most amazing nature footage ever seen or, crucially, not seen until now. Jane doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive. It settles for being breathtakingly beautiful.