New Jane Documentary Highlights Chimp Capabilities

New Jane Documentary Highlights Chimp Capabilities

Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis

Last night, I had the opportunity to see Brett Morgen’s new documentary Jane. The stunning film is not only a feast for the eyes, as a montage of grainy, never-before-seen footage from National Geographic archives, but also a call to the heart that inspires ecological responsibility on the part of humans. The film opens in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, and follows a young Jane Goodall traipsing through the forest with observant determination to connect with a resident chimpanzee community. What intrigued me the most was that hardly ever did the young Jane speak, but rather she was consistently plugging into the landscape around her. Goodall’s elderly, frail voice narrates most of the film in between segments of an actual interview with her. As the film progresses, you realize the enormity of the contribution that this pioneering voice left in the world. As Marc Bekoff put it, “Years ago, I remember learning about the seminal field research of Jane Goodall at the Gombe National Park. Dr. Goodall named, rather than numbered, the chimpanzees she observed, and freely talked and wrote about their unique personalities. It’s common knowledge that she was severely criticized by other researchers, mainly males, many of whom had never been in the field.” Not only did she contribute to groundbreaking realizations that chimpanzees are indeed sentient creatures with unique personalities and capabilities, but she also was the first person to debunk the myth that humans were the only tool users of the primates. Watching chimpanzees strip leaves from grass and use the stems to extract insects from a termite mound, she demystified the uniqueness of human behavior as it had been touted for so long by the Western world. These discoveries along with her observations of the mother-infant bond and aggression behaviors helped pave the way towards our current understanding of these animals’ amazing capabilities.