By Andrew Hager, Historian-in-residence
PPM Picks is a weekly feature offering film, book, or music recommendations from our staff. The links provided in the article go to product listings on Amazon. Purchases made using these links support the Presidential Pet Museum. That said, we were not paid to review or promote any of the items mentioned. We just legitimately like them.
Jane Goodall has spent nearly sixty years studying chimpanzees, and we owe her quite a debt. Before she began her research, scientists knew very little about humanity’s closest relatives. Now, we know quite a bit, and most of it is because of her studies.
Brett Morgan’s documentary Jane, an enchanting and affectionate look at Goodall’s life and career, is surprisingly intimate. It features never-before-seen footage shot by Goodall’s first husband, National Geographic cameraman Hugo van Lawick. Hugo was assigned to document Jane’s research in its early stages, when the scientific community questioned whether a young woman with little experience could possibly have observed chimps in the wild. As such, he was present, with camera, to document much of her groundbreaking research.
A wildlife documentary is only as good as its narration. The audience requires guidance and explanation to understand what it’s watching, but not so much that the images and the soundtrack become redundant. Morgan allows Goodall to tell her story and matches her words with just the right images. Jane is impeccably edited, the rhythm of the shots meshing perfectly with Phillip Glass’ beautiful score. Through it all, Goodall recounts her tale with a clarity and profundity possible only after the passage of decades.
There is both joy and sadness in Jane, as we come to know various chimpanzees and watch their lives. New generations are born. Old generations die off. Some chimps go too soon. In their society, we see a version of our own. Without Dr. Goodall, this world would be unknown to us. Jane offers us her compelling work, wrapped in a visual poetry that makes it all the more resonant.