A welcome biographical documentary about a notable woman.


She Jane... 


The Jane of the title is Jane Goodall who, now an octogenarian, appears here in person and is heard too in voice-over as Brett Morgen’s documentary explores her life. What Morgen has chosen to do is to give us a film which, while also ranging wider, nevertheless puts special emphasis on one particular period in her life. As a child she had dreamed of an adventurous future and when, at the age of 26, she was invited by Louis Leakey, whose secretary she was, to accompany him to Africa to study chimpanzees in the wild it was a fulfilment of those dreams. She had no scientific qualifications but immense enthusiasm for the project and, in the event, this journey resulted in a life that would be devoted to the study of chimpanzees in Gombe in Tanzania together with world tours promoting issues consequent on that.


The years in which she managed to establish personal contact with chimpanzees would result in studies which for the first time established the reasoning powers of these animals and thus gave key insights into evolution. Even if Jane had not at this time met her husband-to-be, the photographer Hugo van Lawick, this would have been an exceedingly important period in her life. That would in itself have justified the choice of focus here, but, in addition, the recent rediscovery of film footage taken in those days played a major part in the decision to make this film.


These pictures vividly convey Jane Goodall’s growing responses to the chimpanzees, recognising with delight the many attributes that they share with us but later finding instincts in them which link these primates to man’s propensity for war-like behaviour. Even when viewing them in the most positive terms (and Jane does compare her own feelings after becoming a mother with those of a chimpanzee known to her), Jane Goodall is never sentimental.


Quite apart from the fascination of the material, the film gains from the way in which Jane Goodall expresses herself with such admirable, direct simplicity. Also, unlike so many nature films in which music is too dominant, Jane actually benefits from music by Philip Glass: it has a large-scale quality that gives a suitably epic sense to the film while also helping to provide coherence to the images which, in the case of the old footage, had to be edited together out of masses of material lacking any clear sequence. Furthermore, Morgen always ensures that the music never drowns out Jane’s frequent voice-overs. Less happily, some of this footage from the past is of inferior quality, but most of what was shot by Hugo van Lowick stands up well, as one would expect since he has a reputation in that field. In any case this is an absorbing account of an unusual life, one that shows Jane Goodall as a dedicated woman. As such this film could well have special inspirational appeal to younger viewers, but you don’t have to be young to find this a very appealing work.




Featuring  Jane Goodall.


Dir Brett Morgen, Pro Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, Tony Gerber and James Smith, Screenplay Brett Morgen, based on the writings of Jane Goodall, Ph Ellen Kuras, Ed Joe Beshenkovsky, Music Philip Glass.


National Geographic Documentary Films/National Geographic Studios/Public Road Productions-Dogwoof.
90 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 24 November 2017. Cert. PG.