November 19, 2017 – This film uses a lot of archival film footage to tell the amazing story of how Jane Goodall, an English waitress without a college education ended up being one of the leading anthropological researchers in the world.
Goodall had a passion for animals and Africa from the time she was a child, she says in the film, so she saved up her wages and tips and went to Africa, where she crossed paths with famed anthropologist Louis Leakey, who was looking for someone with an open mind to study chimpanzees in the wild. He thought such a study, never before undertaken, could shed light on the development of the ancestors of homo sapiens.
This is how Goodall, in her mid-20s, found herself in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania (called Tanganyika at that time, in 1960) studying chimpanzees in the wild. She wanted to be able to study chimps up close, but they always ran away from her. Her determination and patience finally paid off and after a year of study, she was able to get up close to the chimps, who accepted her as a friendly presence.
Although it isn't mentioned in the film, Goodall did go to London and Cambridge to study later on and got a PhD degree in ethology from Newnham College, before returning to Africa to continue her research. The film features a lot of footage filmed by wildlife photographer Hugo van Lawick, the man who would become Goodall's husband. The film touches on their marriage, children and divorce. The couple also spent time at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania where Hugo spent years photographing nature.
In addition to her marriage and divorce, the film also dedicates some time to the difficulties of raising a child in Africa and trying to carry on research at the same time. Jane says her study of chimpanzees made her a better mother, and being a mother made her a better observer of chimpanzee behavior.
Some of the more interesting aspects of her study involved interactions between the chimps and the people at the camp. At one point, the chimps became very aggressive with each other fighting over food at the camp. They also became very destructive, tearing up food containers at the camp. Goodall and others had to come up with a way to ration the available food so that the chimps would not fight over it.
There is also film of a “war” between two factions of the chimps Goodall had been studying at Gombe. The finding that chimps could fight and kill each other was a sensation. One of the saddest things in the movie is footage of chimps affected by polio. Goodall said it was not her group that spread the disease to the chimps. Her decision to euthanatize one of the chimps is evidence supporting one of the criticisms of her work, that is, a lack of scientific objectivity. She makes no apology for her decision.
This film gives us a fascinating portrait of a remarkable person. She is the very embodiment of philosopher Joseph Campbell's admonition to “follow your bliss.” Goodall certainly followed hers to Africa and her beloved chimps. It seems that Goodall was born to do this research. This film rates a B+.
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