A remarkable film about a remarkable woman, “Jane” may not win the Oscar for Best Documentary.
But it did earn Best Documentary at the Critics’ Choice Awards. And I’m proud to say that I’m one of the voters who contributed to that win for this film about Jane Goodall’s personal life and career.
Screenwriter/director Brett Morgen (nominated for an Oscar for his “On the Ropes” documentary) couldn’t have picked a more sympathetic or interesting subject than Goodall who, as a girl, dreamed of living in Africa.
He uses all kinds of approaches to tell his tale, from letters to footage found in 2014 that had been shot by Hugo Van Lawick, who became Goodall’s husband and shared with his wife a passion for Africa, its beautiful environments and the chimps. In 1964, National Geographic sent Van Lawick, who was a nature cinematographer, to film Goodall’s field work with chimpanzees.
First of all, the film contains romance. Goodall and Van Lawick are young people on a mission who find themselves attracted to each other. It’s wonderful to watch them fall in love, just as Goodall loves the chimpanzees among whom she lived. Their surroundings are every bit as exquisite as the romance that blooms.
And we, too, become enchanted with the chimpanzees that Goodall, one of the first humans to have such close contact with the wonderful subjects she studied, understands so well and respects so highly.
The fascinating animals and their communities are very much part of this story. As Goodall comes to better understand them, so do we, and — be warned that you will be greatly saddened by their plight from time to time. The chimps are sometimes tender, but they also can be as brutal as other bipeds with whom they share the planet. It’s impossible not to compare their existence to our own.
This isn’t just a character study of Goodall; indeed, it also is a character study of the chimpanzees we get to know throughout the film.
Who are the audiences for this movie? First, viewers who appreciate nature documentaries and biographies. Second, anyone who appreciates learning something from a documentary will enjoy this. Third, and perhaps most important, are audiences who appreciate a tale well-told. Morgen is a master at this.
This is a tribute to a living subject who has brought so much understanding of her beloved Africa and chimpanzees to the entire world. She deserves to be the subject of this excellent documentary, and it deserves to be seen.