Jane Goodall has long been admired for her tireless work on behalf of animal conservation in general, and specifically for chimpanzees. It is largely because of her that any of us know what we know about the primates, their behavior, their plight at the hands of poachers, and their link to humans. Because Goodall has always put her studies, subject and causes in the forefront, we have had little insight into her personally or how her work commenced. Thanks to the recently released film, “Jane” and its treasure trove of never-before-seen video footage, audiences have a luscious glimpse into what makes this champion of animal behavioral research and nature who she is today and how she began her crusade. Writer-director Brett Morgen in conjunction with National Geographic explore Goodall’s early field work in Gombe, Africa with chimpanzees in 1960. She was one of the first to ever have close contact of the kind, and thee first with such groundbreaking observations. Just as revelatory is the fact that she was a mere 26-years-old at the time and with no college degree. Furthermore, not only were there few people working in such specialized profession, but there were virtually no women.
“Jane” is also a deeply personal portrait, giving insights into Goodall’s childhood, marriage and eventual divorce. Working in nature, with animals and in Africa was a life long passion. She was determined to navigate her way there no matter what, and navigate she did. The world is better for it. The film is not a “talking heads” documentary, or merely photos with voice over, this is a surprisingly active film, capitalizing on National Geographic archival video, coupled with newly found footage from Goodall’s early field work days and underscored by the resonating sounds of original music from Phillip Glass.
Goodall’s initial assignment was solo, but soon financial backers gave her the support of a videographer, Hugo van Lawick. The two hit it off professionally, discovering a shared passion for nature, Africa and the chimps. Their shared work interests grew to a personal connection and love. The results were hundreds of hours of footage in the jungle, marriage and a family. Although over the years, their love could not withstand their work conflicts and long separations, the partnership proved invaluable in the lens of history.
Proving to be a “must see” movie for 2017, “Jane” works on several levels as a nature documentary and a character study.