by George Wolf
Of all the feels stirred by Brett Morgen’s new documentary Jane, perhaps the most lasting is the wonderful rediscovery of an iconic personality we thought we knew.
And if you didn’t know Jane Goodall at all, this is an unforgettable introduction.
Goodall was a young secretary to famed archeologist Dr. Louis Leakey in 1962 when the Dr. dispatched her to Tanzania for a groundbreaking study of free-living chimpanzees. Her qualifications? Only a love of animals and a passion to live among them.
To Leakey, this only made Jane more valuable, as she would enter the wild with no predetermined biases that might cloud her findings. As the project gained notoriety, National Geographic assigned acclaimed photographer Hugo van Lawick to join Goodall, eventually becoming her first husband.
Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) was blessed with over 100 hours of van Lawick’s 16mm footage, and he lets it breathe in a manner that is remarkably organic. These archives, swimming in a loving score from Philip Glass, put us right next to Goodall as she blazes her scientific trail.
The sense of discovery quickly becomes twofold. Goodall was experiencing things unknown to science (as an untrained “comely young miss,” no less), and we become the quiet student of her environment, as she was to the chimps of the Gombe Reserve.
Morgen also includes current memories from Goodall, now in her eighties, and her insightful commentary, interspersed as it is with striking film of her younger self embarking on a historic journey, adds a touching, heartfelt layer.
Jane’s is a remarkable story of curiosity, commitment and the passion to learn. And Jane, easily one of the best docs of 2017, is a beautiful piece of storytelling.