New Jane Goodall Documentary Draws Critical Acclaim

Josh Wright

20 Oct 2017

A new biopic depicts Jane Goodall's wild life as never before

57 years ago, a young secretary travelled to Tanzania to begin her study of chimpanzees, bringing with her no qualifications whatsoever apart from a burning a passion for wildlife. Today, Jane Goodall’s place in the pantheon of world-famous naturalists is as assured as any other.

A new film biopic, premiering last week at the London Film Festival and titled simply Jane, is a celebration of the primatologist’s life and work that has already attracted widespread critical acclaim. Despite being the subject of more than 40 films to date, this new offering from award-winning director Brett Morgen features never-before-seen footage that allows an already adoring audience to see Goodall and her apes from a novel narrative perspective.

Goodall’s pioneering work in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park revolutionised our understanding of the natural world. 

Her discovery that chimpanzees use tools stunned anthropologists who believed humans the only animal capable of such high-level actions. Embedding herself for years within one particular chimpanzee community, Goodall observed its members forming supportive and long-lasting emotional bonds with one another, evident in behaviours such as hugs, kisses, and pats on the back.

If such observations prompted Goodall and the rest of the world to start seeing apes as more “human” than originally thought, another more disturbing discovery only added to this: war. Between 1974 and 1978, two rival groups of Gombe chimpanzees were involved in a series of deadly skirmishes that left 11 individuals dead and decimated an entire community. The capability for aggression and violence in these primates was as much of a surprise to the scientific community as the chimps’ more tender behaviour.

 Goodall even witnessed dominant females committing cannibalism and infanticide in order to maintain their status within the troop.

In the decades since those revelatory years in Tanzania, the young researcher has turned dedicated global activist, establishing the Jane Goodall Institute, a conservation and community development organisation, and advocating for the protection of wildlife and the environment. Despite the magnitude of her achievements, Jane is also a deeply personal portrait, touching on Goodall’s relationships with both her mother and Hugo van Lawick, the photographer who filmed many of her chimp encounters and who she would later marry (and divorce).

All of us at Natural World Safaris are looking forward to seeing Jane when it is given a wide release here in the UK, and we welcome any work of art which brings conservation and those who work to promote it into the public eye. 

Goodall has now been at the forefront of animal-centred activism for over half a century. 

Our resident primate expert Linda has been particularly affected by Goodall’s pioneering work and inspirational thinking, as she works with safaris to visit each one of the great apes. But it's not just our evolutionary cousins who have benefited from Goodall's efforts.

"A whole industry has grown from her work, empowering people in the areas where conservation occurs and offering opportunities for upliftment to nearby communities," says Linda. "Jane's work has allowed people the privilege of spending a moment of their lives with some of our closest relatives, who we would never have had a chance to meet if it was not for her.”

If you too have been inspired by the story of Jane, you can follow in Ms Goodall’s footsteps with an eight-day safari tracking the chimpanzees of Tanzania. Learning about primate behaviour and social structure from expert guides, you’ll even get to spend a few days with the hirsute residents of Gombe Stream National Park, whose ancestors contributed to Goodall’s initial discoveries that expanded our knowledge of the natural world forever.


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