Savannah Film Fest: Jane

Unless you’ve seriously been living under a rock for the past forty years, you probably have some idea of who Jane Goodall is. Everyone can usually attest that she is the lady who worked with the apes in the 60’s. But National Geographic’s newest documentary directed by Brett Morgan shows us so much more than that. I had the chance to see this film at SCAD's annual Film Fest this week, and I'm so glad I did. 

After two years of sifting through over 130 hours of sixty year old footage, the team came to produce an amazing tale of Goodall’s life and the incredibly influential work she did. With mesmerizing scores by Philip Glass, nostalgically breathtaking  footage by Hugo van Lawick and Goodall’s soothing British accent to narrative the film, it all came together in a way that was not only beautiful and inspirational, but also truly gave us a much deeper sense of who Jane Goodall is, what she did and how she saw the chimpanzees she worked with.

As the film starts we see Jane as a young woman starting out on her assignment given to her by Dr. Louis Leakey. She had  no degree or formal training, and the public made sure she knew that. We follow her through the bushes and forests of Gombe, Africa and with her quiet, thoughtful demeanor seemingly holding back a smile at every turn, we can’t help but think of a little girl, playing in the woods.  And quite honestly, that’s probably what a lot of the public thought of her at the time: ‘Here’s this girl who just wants to live with the apes like Tarzan’. Simply because of her being a young untrained woman, much of her work and findings were discredited.

Regardless, Goodall moves forward with her work and makes more and more extraordinary process as she does. Her observations told us so much about these creatures that were not ever studied so intently in the past. In addition, she had almost nothing to go off of; no books, scientific journals of findings about these animals, and still she prevailed and gave us more than we could have ever hoped for.

As we move on in the film we truly see how Jane Goodall felt for these creatures she’s studied for so long. We see her so determined to observe them even when they ran from her in the beginning.  As she got closer and closer, even naming her beloved chimps. we grow a love and attachment for each one as well. Her little family that came to accept her as one of their own, becomes ours too by the end of this story.

We are also able to gain quite a bit of insight into how her work affected her actual family. When Goodall married her assignment partner, renowned wildlife photographer and filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, we see their relationship blossom into a mutual love for what they do and being able to do it together. However, we also see that it wasn’t always paradise having to work, maintain a marriage and then raising a child when their son was born. With Jane herself talking us through the relationship between her work and her family throughout her life, we fall into her shoes and realize how hard they became to walk in.

The amount of work that went into this film is outrageously impressive. After the rediscovery of this massive amount of footage, I learned in a Q & A with the film’s producer Bryan Burk, that it was completely silent. And further, the narration we get in a more recent interview with Jane is only the narration for a couple scenes in the film. All the rest is taken from audio books of hers and other interviews by Goodall over the last few decades. Talk about doing your research!


If you need something to do this weekend I would definitely suggest seeing this film. Not only does it show a deep insight into the life and work of Goodall but it is also a huge inspiration, showing us that even if you’re a young, inexperienced woman, you truly achieve anything through determination and love for what you do. Jane Goodall was, and still continues to be an amazing anthropologist, conservationist, teacher and inspiration for us all.


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