Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011)

What's it about? A documentary about a experiment carried out by a group of researchers in 1970s, whereby they took an infant chimpanzee and brought it up in a human family to see if the chimp could learn to communicate.

Is it any good? Yes. Marsh has skilfully fashioned a fascinating and touching film, patching together photos, video footage and talking head segments to tell Nim's life story. We see him grow from adorable baby chimp to brooding adult, his whole existence dependent on the motives of the various humans in his life, most of whom fail in their duty of care to him for one reason or another. The film certainly doesn't reflect well on the human ape and if you're an animal lover, or Tarzan, you'll be ready to swing for someone. Everyone else might well be asking themselves which species is the more intelligent by the end. An affecting story, all the more so for being true.

Anything else I should know? The professor in charge of the project, Herb Terrace, doesn't come across well in the film, but he still went and got a paper describing the work published in Science in 1979. At the risk of sounding like a science nerd, that's quite good. Anyway, the paper is an impressive example of how plenty of data and persuasive scientific expression can be used to mask shoddy experimental design. No mention of shagging his co-workers in the Materials & Methods section either.

What does the Fonz think? It's like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, only real.





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