Jane Goodall has become a figurehead for wildlife studies and an inspiration for learning about the natural world. Her journey as a primatologist began in 1960, when she went to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to study chimpanzees in the wild. National Geographic filmed much of her expedition in Gombe. Years later, director and writer Brett Morgen pieced together over 100 hours of previously unseen footage along with an interview of Goodall to make the documentary Jane. The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, tells the story of how Goodall became the famed scientist she is today by showing the reality of her life as a researcher and observer of chimps, told from her perspective.
The film depicts the rare, unique life Goodall lived. Besides the fact that there were still very few women in scientific fields at the time, she created the life she wanted and followed her interests all the way to Africa. In her narration, she explains that her mother instilled a confidence in her and she never really questioned whether she could do it. There is something so pure and refreshing in this way of thinking that strikes a cord and makes Goodall a continuous subject of interest.
While the primatologist dedicated her career to observing chimpanzees, Goodall has long been a subject of interest herself, ever since newspaper headlines in the ’60s told western readers of the woman scientist living in the wild. Gender aside, the life that she lived sparks an instant fantasy in the mind, the way an explorer in uncharted territory often does.
The film shows a simple, quaint life for Goodall during her early years in Gombe. She took her time getting to know the chimps as she crossed paths with them, eventually naming them and forming a closer relationship. She treks through the forest and hills near her camp, commenting in the interview that while creatures like snakes populated the area, her philosophy was that if she did not bother them, they would do the same in return. Alone much of the time, Goodall filled notebooks with her observations.
Not long after she arrived in Gombe, Goodall was joined by National Geographic filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, who documented her interaction and observation of the chimpanzees. The film delves deep into the relationship between the two and Goodall does not hesitate in her recount of their history. The two wildlife enthusiasts became close during the their time together, eventually falling in love and marrying. Though their marriage eventually dissolved, the story of their romance has a fairy-tale kind of charm.
Jane depicts a life outside the norm and status quo of society. Goodall’s dedication to the natural world inspires a closer look at our daily routines within the constraints of society. It raises questions- What would it be like to leave behind comfort and venture into the unknown? What does that kind of passion look and feel like? How does that connection with nature and animals change a person?