When Jane Goodall was 27, living among and studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, she witnessed something extraordinary. Months into her expedition in Gombe, Goodall began to observe chimps carefully choosing twigs, stripping them of their leaves, and using those twigs to catch termites.
When she sent this news about “the crude beginning to tool making” to her advisor, Louis Leakey, he sagely responded, “we must now redefine man or accept chimpanzees as human.”
Goodall describes this experience in Jane, the new documentary on her life, recalling that her “observations at Gombe would challenge human uniqueness, and whenever that happens there is always a violent uproar,” Goodall narrates in the film. The world at large, however, did not respond glowingly to a young, female scientist altering their image of the world.
Goodall however, continued her work undeterred — demonstrating the sort of spirit Jane director Brett Morgen pegs as why “we need people like Jane Goodall more than ever before.”
“Sometimes you choose films and sometimes they choose you,” Morgen says. “Sometimes you choose the moment, and other times the moment chooses you. I think in this case the moment and the film chose us.”
The film is a dazzling narrative constructed from hundreds of hours of footage showing Goodall conducting her work in the 1960s, thought to be lost until their discovery in 2014. Released a year late, Morgen says it’s out now when “the world is in a very different place than when we made it.”
Designed as an immersive experience for the viewer, Jane is a visually beautiful and intimate look at Goodall’s transformation from a secretary with no scientific degree to one of the leading voices in the world on chimps and what they mean for our own understanding of humans. In theaters now, the film also details her own love story with the man who originally captured the 16-millimeter footage, Hugo van Lawick, and how the chimps influenced her own actions as a mate and later, a parent.
Jane is a striking look at a compassionate individual — which makes it a lovely a film as ever to watch now when humanity needs a boost.
Jane is screening at theaters in November. Here’s a list of screenings.