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Film Review: Good for Goodall

The new documentary “Jane” is a must-see for everyone, but it’s especially moving for us NextTribers who came of age with warm, hazy memories of the English primatologist Jane Goodall.

While our younger selves may have thought Goodall was a trained academic doing field research, this film reveals her true story. Spliced together are recent candid interviews with Goodall (now in her 80s and a conservation activist) and 100 plus hours of newly discovered, color-saturated footage from the 60s. Interestingly, this film belonged to the late Hugo van Lawick, who became Goodall’s first husband and father of her son.

Set to a swirling Philip Glass soundtrack, “Jane” introduces us to the renowned naturalist as a young secretary with a love of animals and adventure—one who’d been told by her mother that she could do anything she wanted, though the family couldn’t afford to send her to college.

Goodall was able to nab a position assisting famed paleontologist Louis Leakey, who recognized that Goodall’s curiosity and lack of formal training could work in her favor. And indeed it did. The press went wild for the pretty “girl” in her bush gear who fearlessly went amid the chimpanzees, gained their trust, and painstakingly chronicled their lives in a field dominated by male academics.

It’s a fascinating glimpse of the deeply disruptive force of Goodall’s work, which broke new ground about chimpanzee life and the animals’ ability to make and use tools. It’s also a moving portrait of a trailblazer finding her way as a woman, wife and mother under spectacular and singular circumstances.

Janet Siroto

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