Jane Goodall on 'Jane's Journey,' the Oscar-Shortlisted Doc About Her Life (Exclusive Audio)

Jane Goodall United Nations Speech - H 2011
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Jane Goodall United Nations Speech - H 2011

On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of interviewing one of the most famous and influential women of our time, the primatologist and activist Jane Goodall.

Goodall, who is now 77, is the subject of an engrossing new documentary called Jane's Journey, which was selected last month by the Academy's documentary branch as one of the 15 finalists from which this year's five best documentary (feature) Oscar nominees will ultimately be chosen. I reached Goodall via telephone in London, where she spends the few days of each year when she is not traveling around the world giving lectures and/or receiving tributes, and we spoke for about 30 minutes. (You can listen to audio of our conversation at the top of this post.)

We in the general public have come to know a great deal about Goodall's pioneering work with chimps and humans over the past 50-plus years thanks to the countless articles, photographs, and documentaries in which it has been chronicled. We rarely, however, learned anything about Goodall herself -- the childhood, family life, romances, child, hopes, fears, and regrets of a woman who, against all odds, became an icon -- and it was this that the German filmmaker Lorenz Knauer convinced her to share for the first time in Jane's Journey.

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The roughly two-hour film features scenes of Goodall at her at her home in London, her longtime work site the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, three lectures that she gave in the United States and during a visit to a hippo pool in Greenland. It includes interviews with her, her son from the first of her two marriages (with whom she has had a complex relationship) and numerous colleagues, friends and relatives. And it includes footage that was provided to the filmmakers by several of Goodall's "Roots & Shoots" community service organizations that are located in more than 100 countries around the world. (For more information about and/or to make a contribution to Goodall's efforts, visit www.janegoodall.org.)

Through the film, we learn that Goodall first developed a desire to visit Africa and study apes as a child thanks to the Tarzan books ("I fell in love with this lovely, glorious lord of the jungle, and then he went and married that other stupid Jane!"); married two highly possessive men, a wildlife photographer (whom she divorced) and a Tanzanian government official (who died young); has a son from her first marriage who, to her great chagrin, earned his living for many years as a commercial fisherman; and shifted her focus 25 years ago from chimp research to public activism after several experiences made her realize that sins of omission -- particularly a growing apathy about the future -- pose a far greater threat to the future of animals and humans than any specific sins of commission.

FILM REVIEW: 'Jane's Journey'

The gist of the message that Goodall aims to deliver in her travels and through Jane's Journey is one that she emphasizes to me during our conversation, as well: "We have harmed the future for our children -- I mean horribly, horribly harmed the future -- but it's not too late. I'm so sure it's not too late. But we have to change the way we do things."

As for the film itself, Goodall saw a rough cut of it in Munich some time ago and seems glad that she took a chance and cooperated with Knauer.

"It's very peculiar, looking at your life spread out like that," she notes. "I was very moved by what my son said -- he'd never said some of those things to me -- and it certainly brought us closer together. It's amazing that a film could do that, but it did."