Jane's Journey

Jane's Journey


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"A candle, lighting another candle."

A quote from Gary Horne - a blind magician and friend to Jane Goodall, gifted primate researcher, writer, activist, and all-round impervious individual. Rather than a candle, Jane's Journey paints her as the gentlest flamethrower ever to walk the earth.

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Jane's Journey starts as it means to continue - the first sounds are of an excited, delighted chimp. The film documents her struggle to follow her dreams, to go to Africa and become a primatologist. It was the very early Sixties, she lacked a degree and was female. This did not deter her and she embarked to Gombe National Park in Tanzania. After being the first researcher to be accepted into chimpanzee society, she made startling discoveries about primates and tool-making - which forced her mentor, paleontologist Louis Leakey to assert "Now we must redefine 'tool', redefine 'man', or accept chimpanzees as humans."

This is a movie of slow, contemplative details. The birchy, frigid cold exterior of Goodall's childhood home in Bournmouth, England. Her small, modest home filled with a lifetime of nicknacks, well-worn books and simple creature comforts. The eyes drinking in the view of a hundred plane journeys.

Jane's Journey is an effective, well-made documentary. It's filled with interviews with influential people in her life, and occasional discourse into those who are no longer around - her second husband succumbed to cancer rapidly after diagnosis. The chimp footage, both recent and grainy archive footage, provides a healthy dose of pleasant "aaawwww!" moments.

The film then takes a darker turn, with animal rights abuses that became clear after visiting a Chicago Academy of Science conference on conservation in 1986. This prompted a complete change of career - and she "came out as an activist". It also led her to confess that she "hasn't stayed in the same place for more than three weeks".

"She has a way of casting a spell. A great communicator." - Pierce Brosnan.

Jane Goodall is an intriguing speaker, using loquacious, contemplative soliloquies to her captive audiences. She deals in the right kinds of simplicity; using direct evocative language; she would not dream of speaking down to anyone. She also carries a stuffed monkey around with her at all times, inviting everyone to "go ahead, touch him! The inspiration is infectious". There's a delightful story behind him which I will not reveal.

Looking at when she became a United Nations Messenger of Peace, the movie briefly degenerates into a round of praise-talking heads - but recovers quickly with a sequence detailing her ground-level activism based on Roots and Shoots, an aptly titled name for a global programme of volunteerism and the promotion of sustainable living - with children at its heart.

This takes her (and us) again all over the world, including to some of the most broken and impoverished communities in the only remaining superpower. Her words and actions (micro-credit schemes and sponsorships through her Jane Goodall Institute) on poverty's destructive force remains a model which the western world would do well to heed.

Frequent languid pacing and an occasional tendency to rehash similar points and stories lends the film a roughshod quality. Technically it's excellent. Director of photography Richard Ladkani shoots evocative, simple imagery which lays bare the environments and people within.

Documentaries tend to live or die by the strength of their central conceit or personality locus. Jane Goodall's presence and gentle English wit and wisdom goes a long way to strengthen the experience. Just don't compare her to Dian Fossey!

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2011
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A documentary exploring the life of groundbreaking primatologist Jane Goodall.
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Director: Lorenz Knauer

Writer: Lorenz Knauer

Starring: Jane Goodall

Year: 2010

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: Germany


EIFF 2011

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