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Jane's lost chapter: Documentary offers new look at Goodall's early work

A new documentary features recovered footage of Jane Goodall's early explorations.

All Animals magazine, March/April 2018

Goodall and infant chimpanzee Flint reach out to touch each other’s hands. Flint was the first infant born at Gombe after Goodall arrived, and he gave her the opportunity to study chimp development. Goodall and the other Gombe researchers later stopped feeding and touching wild chimps. Photo by Hugo Van Lawick/National Geographic.

Within the first few minutes of Jane, a new documentary from National Geographic, the viewer is treated to wide shots of a gorgeous lush landscape, extreme close-ups of frilly insects going about their business—and a shot of young Jane Goodall, sitting in a boat, making her way into Gombe, Tanzania. This immersive film features footage by Goodall’s late husband, Hugo van Lawick, that had been thought lost since the early 1960s. Director Brett Morgen intersperses these scenes of a young, untrained Goodall making inroads into chimpanzee communities with present-day interviews in which the 83-year-old Goodall reflects on her life and work. In this edited interview with All Animals senior editor Kelly L. Williams, co-producer Bryan Burk talks about what sets this film apart from its predecessors and what lessons viewers can take from it.

Plenty of films and documentaries tell Jane Goodall’s story. What new angle does Jane have to offer?

It’s not only that the footage is new, I think it’s Brett’s whole approach to telling this story. I was fortunate enough to bring the film so Jane could see it for the first time in England. We met Jane there and she pulls out a pen and paper to begin her note-writing process. The movie begins, and she has her pen and paper out. And within a minute, she kind of puts the paper and pen down. I think it was a really revelatory experience for her as well—because she hadn’t seen any of this footage. It was the way he told the film, where it felt unlike anything else that we had seen in the multiple documentaries that had been made about her. It was a completely different experience.

Flint peeks at Jane Goodall from the top of her tent. Photo by Hugo Van Lawick/National Geographic.

What made it different?

It was an experience of seeing Gombe and her experience there through her eyes and with her, and watching how this woman who had no scientific training was entering this place where nobody from the Western world had spent a significant amount of time studying chimpanzees in the wild. It was a really unique perspective, to watch this amazing human become who she became.

Why do you think Jane’s story resonates with so many people?

She was perpetually determined to do what she loved. She runs into all the problems that everyone will run into regardless of what you want to do. There’s financial problems, there’s problems with the people around you, the people you work with. And there were so many naysayers. Everywhere you looked were people saying, “Who are you?” and “What are you doing?” and “You can’t do this” and “You’re just a woman.” Regardless of what it is that you aspire to do, everyone is faced with the same obstacles, and this is the journey of one woman who not only achieved what she wanted to achieve but is still achieving it.

  • David Greybeard was the first chimp to lose his fear of Goodall, eventually coming to her camp to steal bananas and allowing her to touch and groom him. Photo by Hugo Van Lawick/National Geographic.

What message—about conservation or helping animals—do you hope viewers take away from the movie?

We often feel overwhelmed, like how are we going to make a difference? You leave this movie feeling, “Oh, I could do anything! Anything is possible!” This woman was so far removed from the remote parts of Africa, let alone the possibility of becoming an expert in the field of primatology. And her journey was step by step by step by step to become who she is. She literally changed the world. For me it is a movie for everyone for that reason. Particularly if you feel like you need a little inspiration. Or a lot of inspiration.

The documentary Jane is available for download on Amazon and iTunes.

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