Monday, September 12, 2011

Lorenz Knauer's JANE'S JOURNEY concen-trates on the work of one hell of a woman

We get some up-close-and-personal information about Jane Goodall -- the British primatologist and anthropologist considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpan-zees -- in the new documentary about her that opens in New York this Friday and in Los Angeles, Friday next. But mainly what we see, hear and come to understand has much more to do with her work, early on with those chimps, and even more impor-tant, now, as she strives to save a dying planet and to bring us along with her on that mission.

Let's admit it right out: This film is hagiography of a sort. But when the folk around the subject at hand love and respect her as much as they clearly do, it's rather difficult not to present the woman as something special. Film-maker Lorenz Knauer (at left) and his crew have put together a nearly two-hour documentary about Ms Goodall that slips around the globe nearly as fast and often as the lady herself does it (she tells us at one point that she is rarely anywhere longer than three days at a time -- and this at age 77!). After a brief bit of early history, we learn of how she came to undertake, some fifty years ago, her pioneering study of wild chimpanzee behavior (below), and why her mentor Louis Leakey felt that a woman -- and a non-university-educated woman, at that -- would be best for this job.

The film begins as Goodall tells a very funny anecdote about Gorillas Get Me Pissed (oops, I got that title wrong) but in such a classy, gracious manner that you'll immediately be taken with the woman. And she holds you in this light, caring embrace throughout the film. We learn of her first and second marriages ("I chose two jealous men," she says) and the offspring of the first, nicknamed "Grubb," whom we eventually meet, along with his own offspring.

The scenes with the chimps, both the old and recent ones, are spectacular indeed, and the cinematography (above, by Richard Ladkani) and sound design are as good as anything we get from Hollywood blockbusters. The movie comes into its own after Ms Goodall goes to a particular seminar on chimps only to learn that in habitat after habitat, the animals are dying or being slaughtered. Overnight this seems to activate her "Activist" button, and since that time she has campaigned around the globe not only for safer animal habitats, but for the betterment of our planet and an end to its current destruction.

Of particular note is her work on American Indian reservations and her Root & Shoots program. We go from a fabulous and hidden "hippo pool" in Africa to the melting ice of Greenland; we hear celebs like Angelina Jolie and Pierce Brosnan talk about this untiring activist and her work. Best of all, we see this work in action and what it means. It will be almost impossible, I think, to come away from this film with anything less than supreme admiration for Ms Goodall and her work. The big question is, of course, how to wrest control of our planet from the individual and corporate wealth that currently controls and is destroying it -- so that Goodall's work can succeed and bear the kind of fruit that will count  Suggestions, anyone?

Jane's Journey, from First Run Features, opens this Friday, September 16, in New York City at the IFC Center, and on September 23 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica 4.

All photos are from the film itself, except that of director Knauer, 
which comes courtesy of 

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