We continue nature film week with Jane's Journey, a biographical portrait of Jane Goodall, who has become a champion of conservation and the ethical treatment of animals. At nearly two hours, this documentary recounts the primatologist's long career, showing her childhood, early chimpanzee studies in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, and global campaign for a variety of environmental causes.
Thanks to Goodall's father, who was an early advocate of home movies, we are able to see her as a child, and she was comfortable in front of cameras when National Geographic arrived at her compound on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the early 1960s. The magazine articles and television specials that National Geographic produced made young Goodall an international hero quickly. The first half of Jane's Journey describes her years of primate study, her failed marriage with photographer Hugo Van Lawick, and the loss of natural habitat for the wildlife of Africa. The second half shows Goodall as ambassador to the world. A subplot throughout is her strained relationship with her son Hugo, known to people worldwide since his birth as Grub.
Because her causes are now her life, we travel to many troubled places in the later part of the film. The saddest may have been in the United States, as Goodall visited a Native American reservation where poverty and lack of hope have led to many adolescent suicides; her Roots and Shoots program is supporting community gardens to improve nutrition and create civic pride there. Her visit to a Congolese refugee camp was also quite moving. There, as in many places, she is surrounded by people eager to transform their lives and environments.
Jane's Journey will be appreciated by her fans worldwide.
Jane's Journey. First Run Features, 2011. 111 min.