Jane's Journey: Film Review

An engaging, often personal look at the great primatologist-turned-conservationist Jane Goodall.

ABU DHABI -- At 75, Dr. Jane Goodall is not just the world’s leading expert on chimpanzees, but also one of the greatest defenders of the environment.

She’s the inspiring subject of Lorenz Knauer’s feature documentary Jane’s Journey, chronicling the last 20 years of her life as an environmental activist with fervent admiration bordering on cheery hagiography. Overall, film hits the right tone, and its brief but fascinating glimpses into Goodall’s private life distinguishes it from the many TV docs on the lady. Cameos by Angeline Jolie, Pierce Brosnan and Kofi Annan support her environmental mission, which this very positive film will certainly further via television, festivals and schools.

For those unfamiliar with Goodall’s groundbreaking studies of chimpanzees in Tanzania in the 1960s, or for those who confuse her with Dian Fossey and Gorillas in the Mist, as she jokes in the opening scene, Knauer’s doc quickly sketches in her early years. As a young British girl enamoured of animals, she had the luck to be sent to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to observe wild chimps, which she continued to study for 45 years through two marriages and raising a son in Africa.

The primatologist of today is shown socializing with chimpanzees in the forest, as her earlier years are recounted. The body of the film describes her nonstop travels and tireless work as a lecturer on environmental issues around the world. Her energy seems limitless as she flies around the globe for the Jane Goodall Institute, visiting local Roots and Shoots groups, which she founded to bring environmental issues to a grassroots community level and which now has branches in 120 countries.

Tall, slender, wearing a gray ponytail and a transcendental smile, Goodall emanates a wise-woman presence that draws the viewer into her anger and desperation over how the world is being thoughtlessly destroyed. Fortunately a message of hope overrides the gloomy statistics. Knauer edits together many of her travels as a U.N. Messenger of Peace, from a chilly reception in North Korea to a warm one in an overcrowded refugee camp in the Congo, to a devastating visit to a poor and depressed Indian reservation in South Dakota. Over and over, she stresses her belief that children will save the world.

Though parts of the film slide inexorably into promoting conservation and animal welfare issues, the partisan feeling is diluted by hints of how Jane’s family life has suffered from her work, once defined by her son Hugo van Lawick as her “obsession.”  Their conflict over his earlier job as a commercial lobster exporter now appears to be over, offering a happy ending to the film as mother, son and grandchildren gambol happily on an African shore.

Venue: Abu Dhabi Film Festival (What in the World section)
Production company: Neos Film, CC Medienproduktion, Sphinx Media in association with Animal Planet, Sudwestrudfunk/Arte
Director/screenwriter: Lorenz Knauer
Producer: Philipp Schall, Philipp Wundt, Michael Halberstadt
Executive producers: Matthias Triebel, Andreas Atzwanger, Torben Struck
Director of photography: Richard Ladkani
Music: Wolfgang Netzer
Editor: Corina Dietz
Sales agent: Bavaria Film International
Unrated, 107 minutes