See it at ACMI: Jane, an intimate portrait of a renowned conservationist

By Bridie Dawson

Brett Morgen’s latest biopic Jane (2017) is a truly immersive cinematic experience. Lovingly shot, the film transports viewers into a world of colour and magic guided by famed primatologist Jane Goodall and her most romantic view of the natural world. 

Goodall is best known for her research in the 1960s, when she was sent by her boss Louis Leakey to live among the chimpanzees in Gombe, Nigeria. Chosen specifically for her lack of scientific background, Goodall was allowed to form an emotional bond with the chimps in order to gain an understanding of their behaviours and social structures.

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We are absorbed into Goodall’s world through cinematographer Hugo van Lawick’s footage, which was recently uncovered after being thought lost for over 50 years. This archival footage from National Geographic transports us back to Goodall’s early early days of research. It also takes us on a journey of love and admiration from the viewpoint of van Lawick, as he develops his own feelings for the young conservationist. Director Brett Morgen has seamlessly reconstructed Van Lawick’s footage in a way that creates a romantic view of nature, and presents Gombe as the paradise for which Goodall saw it.

The Oscar and Emmy-nominated director Brett Morgen is best known for creating documentaries that uncover the essence of his subjects, including Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015). Morgen’s desire to push the boundaries of the genre allowed him to create Jane (2017) in a way that renders an intimate portrait of the then young and fearless Goodall.

The film also includes excerpts of Goodall reading her 1999 book, “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual journey”. And interviews with the ever insightful now 83-year-old give us a comparative understanding of the younger, more naive and carefree Jane, and the now pre-eminent wildlife researcher. 

Morgen has also partnered with composer Phillip Glass who has created a rich orchestral score to accompany Lawick’s rich, colour-saturated footage. The swelling chords intertwined with sounds from the Gombe wildlife evoke an idyllic world, in which we are able to share Goodall’s wonderment of nature.

Morgen has created a beautiful world of discovery and, much like Goodall’s own findings, the film is observational and based in feeling and connection. While Jane (2017) sheds a new light on Goodall, it’s a wonder for both long-time fans of her work or anyone interested in the natural world. When going to see the film, be prepared to fall in love with Goodall and the world of discovery in Gombe that Morgen has meticulously uncovered.


Jane runs from February 15 – March 4 at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Tickets can be purchased at the venue or online.