Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

JANE directed by Brett Morgen

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

Geographical Week

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

Subscribe to Geographical!

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The 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

  • Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    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 ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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

It’s hard to imagine life without the visual world upfront…

Books

by Patrick Winn • Icon Books • £14.99 (paperback)

Books

by Mark Nelson • UA Press • £21.99 (paperback)

Books

by Ed Douglas and John Beatty • Vertebrate Publishing •…

Books

by Tristan Gooley • Sceptre Books • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Adam Weymouth • Particular Books • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by David Runciman • Profile Books • £14.99 (hardback)

Films

Blockbuster dinosaur sequel asks probing questions about humans’ ethical responsibilities…

Films

Are kangaroos a great icon for Australia? Or a natural…

Exhibitions

New exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery by photojournalist Lizzie Sadin,…

Books

by Tim Marshall • Elliott & Thompson • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Inara Verzemnieks • Pushkin Press • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Andy Kirkpatrick • Vertebrate Publishing • £24 (hardback)

Books

edited by Paul Hawken • Penguin • £16.99 (paperback)

Books

by William Frame and Laura Walker •British Library Publishing • £40…

Books

by Tom Young • Oneworld • £12.99 (hardback)

Exhibitions

An up-market Chinese-art gallery in Mayfair is trying something new,…

Exhibitions

A colourful vision of saddle-billed storks collects the top prize…

Exhibitions

To reflect the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage…

Exhibitions

From 18-22 July, photography tour company Light and Land will…