3 StarsDavid Hoppe
In 1960, Jane Goodall, graduate of an English secretarial school, arrived in Gombe, on the narrow shore of Lake Tanganyika in Kenya. Gombe is 10 miles long and 2 miles wide. Hills and valleys covered with a great, deep forest are there. In the forest live bands of chimpanzees. Goodall has become a world figure of almost saintly dimension thanks to her tireless observation and study of the Gombe chimps - and to the remarkable documentation of that work on film.
As the new IMAX film at the State Museum, Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees, makes clear, Goodall, whether by accident or design, has become an inseparable part of the chimps' story. Film has played a big part in this process. After the dizzying, IMAX-obligatory air shots of the Kenyan countryside, Wild Chimps throws us back in time, giving itself up to black and white footage of the 20-something Goodall striding thoughtfully through Gombe's Edenic landscape. From the beginning, Goodall has carried herself with the poise of a movie star, but none of the artifice. She was a gift to the camera when she was a young woman, wrapping herself in a blanket to sleep on a darkening mountainside. Today, though Goodall is 70, this is still true. She is the embodiment of a certain humility, the desire that's somewhere in all of us to simply be one with our fellow animals.
It seems a few of the most important things we understand about chimpanzees we know because Goodall was there. She dispelled the assumption that bands of chimps were peace-loving and non-aggressive when she watched one band wipe another out. She also broke the news that chimpanzees used tools, debunking the notion that making and using tools was an exclusively human trait.
Now Goodall is trying to save chimpanzee habitat, which is tantamount to saving the chimpanzees themselves. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were nearly 2 million chimpanzees in African forests. Today, there are only around 150,000. Goodall's life work has become not just the study of chimpanzees, but an effort to help people understand that, in a real way, what we do to the chimpanzees we are surely doing to ourselves.
So chimpanzees are at the heart of this 42-minute film. There are shots, two stories high, of chimps gamboling through the trees, throwing tree limbs, rolling about, scratching, grooming and sticking their butts in the air. For many of us, that's bound to be enough. If the film has a problem, it's that there aren't more of these monkey shines.
Indeed, the grumpier among us might wish that Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees lingered a little longer on what it's like to try communicating with members of another species over a period of decades. We don't learn much about the "quality" of the relationships we're seeing - whether they be those between people and chimps, the chimps and each other or, for that matter, various camera crews and the subjects, human and chimp, of their filming. In other words, we might wish for a story instead of a series of picturesque postcards.
But that would be overshooting the intentions of this production, which is meant to introduce an exhibit on the same subject running concurrently at the Children's Museum. For those unfamiliar with the extraordinary saga of Jane Goodall's life and work, this is a timely introduction. For everyone else, it's like scenes from a happy family reunion.
Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees runs at the IMAX Theater at the Indiana State Museum Feb. 4 through June 9. Call 317-233-IMAX or log onto www.ImaxIndy.com for weekly show times.