Film review: JANE

Francesca Gater reviews the National Geographic documentary 'JANE', directed by Brett Morgen and released in 2017.

Francesca Gater
Tue 19 Jun 2018

The documentary JANE was released in cinemas last year, but it is mostly a 50-year-old work. The bulk of the footage was shot in the 1960s and was believed lost until it was unearthed in National Geographic archives in 2014. Now this unique footage of Jane Goodall and the chimpanzee community she lived amongst in Tanzania has been colour-enhanced and put together with new interviews with Jane herself and an original orchestra score.

It is an intimate and inspiring insight into Jane's life and the lives of chimpanzees in the wild. Aged 26, Jane went alone into the forests of Gombe, Tanzania, with no training or scientific background, just an open mind and a life-long love of animals. She went on to change our understanding of wild animals and to become one of the world's most cherished conservationists.

The footage documents Jane's unwavering patience over many months as she waits to be accepted by the chimp community that she is observing. Eventually, she is rewarded. Up close, she gains new understanding of chimpanzee behaviour, their personalities and emotions, and 'a window on our past' shedding light on the mysteries of evolution.

She experiences highs and lows. From the birth of baby chimps – observing infants in the wild helped Jane to be a better motherherself, she says – to disease and brutality that is part and parcel of the chimpanzee community. The dark side of human nature is inherited from our primate ancestors, she concludes.

What comes through most strongly is Jane's love and respect for nature. It is a privilege and a joy for her to be accepted in the forest. The chimpanzees are her equals – she learns from them, laughs with them and grieves with them as fellow beings. The chimpanzees are wonderful subjects – full of expression and emotion and unmistakably our closest relatives.

50 years later, no modern nature documentaries can quite compare with the intimacy of this footage. Jane's experience and dedication remain as inspiring as ever. And her repeated message of care and respect for the natural world is as urgent now as it has ever been.