Beloved chimp lady and peripatetic traveler Jane Goodall was on the West Coast last night for the Los Angeles premiere of National Geographic’s documentary “Jane” about her early years in the jungle study chimpanzees.
Last week the renowned humanitarian, conservationist and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, was in New York for the film’s New York premiere, an intimate screening that was one of the highlights of the New York Film Festival.
L.A. did it big, with movie stars attending the glittery screening at the Hollywood Bowl. A live orchestra performed composer Phillip Glass’s original score. Director Brett Morgen, subject Jane Goodall, producer Bryan Burk, and Glass walked the yellow carpet along with friends and colleagues including: Angelina Jolie, J.J. Abrams, Kate Bosworth, Judd Apatow, Marcia Gay Harden, Michael Chiklis, Jane Lynch, Alicia Silverstone, Pamela Adlon, Dermot Mulroney, Diane Warren,Tony Hawk, Ali Larter, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jane’s son, Grub Goodall and grandson, Merlin Van Lawick.
JANE is the story of Jane Goodall’s early work with chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania in the 1960’s. This extraordinary documentary is comprised of footage shot by the man who was to become her future husband, Hugo van Lawick, a renowned and gifted nature photographer. The footage shot by van Lawick was previously thought to be lost forever and was only recently discovered in a storage unit. Now beautifully intercut with interviews of present-day Jane Goodall, it provides an in-depth portrait of her life and work.
Goodall was the first person to study chimps by living close to them so that she gained their trust. She gave them names and grew to know each of them and their unique personalities. Until Goodall came to Gombe to study them, little was known about chimpanzees nor their many human-like characteristics, including their capacity for love and grieving.
One of the joys of the documentary is that you can tell van Lawick was falling in love with his subject by all the close up shots of Jane, a stunning beauty who at age 26 looked like a young Grace Kelly.
You may cringe when you hear broadcasters from these early years call Goodall “a lovely young lady” or comment about her legs in such a way that it undercuts the seriousness of her endeavor. But she was so committed and passionate about her work that she played along if it meant her appearance and visibility would help to fund her studies.
Jane Goodall was asked at the New York Film Festival screening if Grub, her son with van Lawick, also loved chimps. “No he hates them,” she laughed. By the way, chimps are 8-10 times stronger than human beings, but Goodall claims never to have felt afraid of them although she was very careful with her son, who she kept caged as a toddler so the chimps couldn’t get to him.
Also at the screening in New York, Goodall laughingly complained that van Lawick was a perfectionist to a degree that sometimes irritated her. She would want him to take a shot quickly but he would not take the image until he got exactly the right light or angle. Audiences will be happy he did. This documentary is so stunningly beautiful, that in addition to the educational significance of the material, it is also a tribute to the artistry and skill of the photographer.
Van Lawick and Goodall divorced in 1974; Jane was committed to staying with her chimps in Gombe and van Lawick wanted to photograph animal life in the Serengeti so their separation was inevitable although they remained friends until his death in 2002.
“Jane,” which has Oscar potential will open in theaters October 20.