Magazine article Screen International

Jane Goodall, Brett Morgen on Acclaimed New Documentary 'Jane'

Magazine article Screen International

Jane Goodall, Brett Morgen on Acclaimed New Documentary 'Jane'

Article excerpt

Jane is not the first documentary made about Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania - but it is surely the most artful.


National Geographic’s decision to hire intrepid documentarian Brett Morgen to compile never-before-seen archive footage of primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall was a complete surprise to the director himself.

“If someone had asked me to watch a Jane Goodall doc, I would have thought, ‘Haven’t I seen this at some point?’ And furthermore, why would they hire someone like me?” said Morgen, who is known for his work on documentaries including the Oscar-nominated On The Ropes (1999), co-directed with Nanette Burstein, about three young boxers and their coach; the film adaptation of producer Robert Evans’ colourful memoir The Kid Stays In The Picture (2002); and multiple Emmy nominee Cobain: Montage Of Heck (2015), detailing the life of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.

Goodall, who was appointed a Dame by the Queen in 2004, added: “I’d heard that National Geographic wanted to make another documentary and I thought, ‘Oh no, not another one, there have been so many.’”

Miss Goodall And The Wild Chimpanzees (1965) marked the start of National Geographic’s association with the primatologist - the film was shot in 16mm by her first husband, Dutch videographer Hugo van Lawick, in the early 1960s - and continued with 1984’s Among The Wild Chimpanzees. Goodall had been aware that an extensive amount of additional archive material existed, shot at the start of her career in northwestern Tanzania, but had “forgotten all about it”.

Morgen signed on to direct Jane after National Geographic granted him final cut, and after he glimpsed van Lawick’s beautifully preserved footage. This also coincided with Tim Pastore joining the channel as president of original programming and production. Keen to give the network a rebranding, Pastore wanted to extend its “bread and butter” into the festival and theatrical space.

“I kept joking [to National Geographic] that this will be the most expensive show they make, and they just nodded their heads,” recalls Morgen, who adds that the network fully supported his more expensive requests, including an extended post-production schedule accommodating a lengthy sound mix and colour grade, plus the hiring of renowned composer Philip Glass.

Production challenges

Once Morgen and his assistant sifted through the 140 hours of footage, along with 55 hours of audio recordings provided by the Jane Goodall Institute, they had the unenviable task of attempting to create synchronised chimpanzee sounds. “There were no two consecutive shots that originated from the same camera reel,” explains Morgen. “The dream soon became a nightmare. There were over 160 chimpanzees that lived in the Gombe National Park at the time. Let’s just say the chimps don’t wear any name tags.”

Beginning in August 2015, the director’s scaled-back team spent 15 arduous months organising the footage. Morgen then travelled to Goodall’s home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

“She wasn’t rude, but she was straight to the point,” recalls Morgen about his first meeting with the anthropologist, who spends 300 days a year on the road speaking at conferences and universities. …

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