Film Reviews

Most people know about Jane Goodall's ground-breaking animal behavior research on the wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Game Reserve, now in Tanzania. We know much less about Jane herself: that Dr. Louis Leakey picked twenty-six-year old British secretary Jane Goodall precisely because she had no degree and no training, thereby embarking on a six-month study unbiased about scientific theory.  

Leakey picked Goodall because she impressed him with her lifelong love of animals, her open mind, her passion for knowledge, and her monumental patience. As writer/director Brett Morgen describes the circumstances, Goodall would need that patience, as any animal behaviorist knows, with long hours and months of observation passing before the chimpanzee community accepted Jane. Through occasional voice-over narration along with contemporary on-camera interviews, Jane says and proves that when she stared into the eyes of the chimpanzees, she saw a reasoning, thinking person looking back. She will also eventually find brutal aggression.

Simply, elegantly titled Jane, this documentary explores Jane and her world: her mother initially accompanying Jane to Gombe because it was considered unsafe, Jane's loving the isolation and resenting the need for National Geographic photographer Hugo van Lawick sent to photograph and film her and the chimps to keep the grants coming, Hugo and Jane's eventual marriage, Jane leaving Gombe to be with him and their son Flint, her eventual return to Gombe, and the Foundation now in her name. 

Hugo's wildlife footage is breathtaking, both of the chimpanzees and of the Serengeti. But it is his films of Jane and the chimpanzees, named and closely observed, that carries this film. Goodall's direct, unsentimental recounting of her extraordinary experiences is heartwarming and heartbreaking when a polio epidemic invades the community over fifty years ago. As Goodall says, "Experience in the forest had given me perspective. In the forest death is not hidden, but all around you all the time, part of the endless cycle of life." Goodall's life, by any standards, is extraordinary and we're fortunate that she has shared it so generously in the documentary Jane. It made me happy to be alive. At the Hi-Pointe Cinema.

Related Articles

Sign Up for KDHX Airwaves newsletter