JANE directed by Brett Morgen Featured

David Greybeard was the first chimp to lose his fear of Jane, eventually coming to her camp to steal bananas and allowing Jane to touch and groom him David Greybeard was the first chimp to lose his fear of Jane, eventually coming to her camp to steal bananas and allowing Jane to touch and groom him National Geographic Creative/Hugo van Lawick
13 Oct
2017
Combining a treasure trove of unseen footage set to music by Phillip Glass, Jane is a masterful take on Goodall’s transformation from secretary to one of the world’s most successful conservationists

The knowledge that other animals are capable of using tools is often taken for granted. But until 1960, when Jane Goodall reported chimpanzees stripping the leaves from sticks in order to dip them into termite mounds, it was the first time tool modification had been observed in the wild. Her discovery would force science to redefine tools, redefine humans, or accept chimpanzees as humans. ‘This really was a moon landing moment,’ explains director Brett Morgen at the London release of his new documentary, Jane. ‘It was something that happened in the 1960s that could never happen again.’

His documentary is a masterpiece of compilation. Over 100 hours of never-seen-before footage, which had been tucked away in the National Geographic archives for 50 years, have been blended together to recreate Goodall’s genesis years in the Gombe jungle, West Africa. We see the 26-year-old set up camp in the woods with little more than a secretarial qualification. We see her begin observations of chimps from a distance. We see her try to introduce herself in a community of chimpanzees and get closer to our ape cousins than anyone in history.

Jane Goodall and infant chimpanzee Flint reach out to touch each other's hands. Flint was the first infant born at Gombe after Jane arrived (Image: National Geographic Creative/Hugo van Lawick)Jane Goodall and infant chimpanzee Flint reach out to touch each other's hands. Flint was the first infant born at Gombe after Jane arrived (Image: National Geographic Creative/Hugo van Lawick)

The remarkable fact is all of the footage was shot after the event – the snippets were filmed after Goodall made contact with the animals, and after the arrival of National Geographic photographer (and her eventual partner) Hugo von Lawick. A notorious perfectionist, von Lawick painstakingly composed each shot so that not a single one was overexposed, often laying beach sand in front of the chimps to reflect the light and so capture the definition on their faces. By stringing together these pearls of film, Morgan creates the illusion that we are seeing the forest with Goodall for the first time. Around the visuals, Phillip Glass (best-known for the haunting tracks in The Hours and The Thin Red Line) fuses a palpitating central theme with the unsettling, shrill calls of chimps on-screen. Deliberately, the sound and images evoke a strange ecosystem in harmony, and the simple idea of a woman, alone, studying it. ‘I felt invincible back then,’ Goodall narrates. ‘Nothing could hurt me if I was careful.’

Jane Goodall watches as Hugo van Lawick operates a film camera (Image: Jane Goodall Institute)Jane Goodall watches as Hugo van Lawick operates a film camera (Image: Jane Goodall Institute)

Once von Lawick is officially introduced to the on-screen proceedings, ‘we get the pleasure watching Hugo fall in love with Jane on camera,’ says Morgen. With von Lawick in the picture, Goodall’s story becomes world-famous and her life more layered: we watch von Lawick watching Goodall watching the chimps. Unfortunately, the film barely touches on her transition to Dr Goodall in these years – she was admitted to Cambridge to do a PhD on chimp behaviour without even having an undergraduate degree.

Jane formed a close bond with young Fifi. As the film "Jane" depicts, Jane and the other Gombe researchers later discontinued feeding and touching the wild chimps (National Geographic Creative/Hugo van Lawick)Jane formed a close bond with young Fifi. As the film "Jane" depicts, Jane and the other Gombe researchers later discontinued feeding and touching the wild chimps (National Geographic Creative/Hugo van Lawick)

What Jane does cover is Goodall’s compulsion to her work, and her prioritising of it over a then-traditional family life. It also explores the remarkable perseverance it took for her to challenge a male-dominated field of exploration and science. ‘In all my childhood dreams I was a man,’ she reveals, ‘probably because I wanted to do things which men did and women didn’t.’ Being a woman who wanted to do explore and study is arguably the least remarkable thing about her and thoughout the film, she emphasises how lucky she feels to have found the chance to live and work in Gombe, perhaps in spite of the constraints on women at the time. ‘The stars had a lot to do with it,’ she says. Humility aside, Jane shows how Goodall’s resolve, bravery and toil shaped that chance into a lifetime of work for the natural world.

Jane is on general release in the UK from 24 November

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Exhibitions

Prestigious Natural History Museum photography competition recognises Brent Stirton's capturing…

Books

An inveterate armchair traveller ever since my Soviet childhood, I…

Books

Bonnett’s previous book, Off the Map, was a thoroughly readable…

Books

When Wilkinson set off to become the Telegraph’s Islamabad correspondent…

Books

Dartmoor National Park might appear wild, but it’s the lines…

Books

Barry Smith is a self-confessed islomaniac and a fixation with…

Books

Neoliberalism. The word seems to have lost all meaning. According…

Films

Combining a treasure trove of unseen footage set to music…

Books

The dreadful pandemic of 1918, writes Laura Spinney, ‘engulfed the…

Books

Those of us who enjoy good travel writing know that…

Books

‘I look around me and I see a world populated…

Books

Convergence has long been a talking point within evolutionary science.…

Books

At its core, Thomas’ book is about a big hole…

Books

I’m not sure how much of a market there is…

Books

Watling Street connects Dover to Anglesey. Once a meandering track,…

Films

An epic journey alongside the nomadic crew of the Infinity…

Films

Vice President and climate action advocate Al Gore returns with…

Films

A new Netflix documentary investigates the dire state of the…

Books

After two years, you’d probably think it nigh on impossible…