Brett Morgen's tightly woven immersive doc Jane plunges into the early life of trailblazing primatologist Jane Goodall. Through gorgeous footage -- once thought lost -- shot by Goodall's late ex-husband Hugo van Lawick in the 1960s, we see a young Goodall quietly stalking a family of chimps in Gombe. The camera tracks her; she's both the researcher and van Lawick's subject matter. Van Lawick shot all the footage as though he were making a narrative film — Goodall says van Lawick refused to turn on his camera unless the light was perfect. Morgen edits this footage together as though it were all one beautiful, soaring montage, where there's barely room for breath before the next harrowing/exhilarating/melancholy/thrilling chapter begins. The director's present-day interviews with Goodall act as narration, the images we see driving what she will say in her voiceover, rather than the voiceover spontaneously guiding what topic might emerge next. Unlike most doc directors, Morgen edited the footage of this film together before conducting his subject interview.
Jane is an atypical romance between a woman, a man, a child and a family of chimps. The chimps themselves become rich, full characters, as we get to know matriarch Flo and patriarch David Greybeard. There are no loose ends or wasted time; everything builds to a rising crescendo that makes you feel like your heart is going to burst. The immense strength of this remarkable woman is on such powerful display that, 20 minutes into the film, tears welled from my eyes and did not stop, even after I left the theater.
When I first saw Brett Morgen’s 2002 documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, I was shocked that the film somehow matched the rollicking, mercurial energy of its subject, producer Robert Evans. Morgen reimagined the use of archival footage and voiceover, and the style he pioneered has now been mimicked...