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How ‘Jane’ Evolved from Found Footage to Inspiring Documentary

Constructed largely from 100 hours of recently discovered raw footage of Jane Goodall, documentarian Brett Morgen's "Jane" offers an intimate look at the beloved primatologist.

Constructed largely from 100 hours of recently discovered raw footage of Jane Goodall—shot in Tanzania’s Gombe wilderness and the Serengeti plains in 1962 by wildlife photographer Hugo van Lawick—documentarian Brett Morgen’s Jane offers an intimate look at the beloved primatologist.

Goodall defied the scientific community of the time with her approach to learning about chimpanzees by socializing with them, and in 1964 van Liwick was sent to document her work on 16mm film. He not only captured key moments in the scientist’s journey of discovery but also fell in love with her. The two married, had a child together and eventually divorced, all of which is addressed in the film.

Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick in Gombe
Photo courtesy Jane Goodall Institute

Jane includes additional footage from the period and contemporary interviews shot by Ellen Kuras, ASC, to create a compelling portrait of Goodall, her relationship to van Lawick, her very encouraging mother and, of course, the chimpanzees themselves.

Alongside editor Joe Beshenkovsky, ACE, Morgen set to work organizing the vast archive of material with archival producer Jessica Berman-Bogdan. Because there was no perceptible rhyme or reason to the way the reels were stored, constructing some kind of continuity among the “characters” (Goodall and the many chimps in the footage) turned into an extensive cataloging project.

Morgen worked on the footage with colorist Tim Stipan at Deluxe’s Company 3 in Santa Monica, Calif. The colorist’s work on Jane took place in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.

Young chimpanzee Flint

Stipan says of Morgen’s approach to color, “He treats it like a narrative. In some of the happy, early moments in the film, where we’re first seeing Jane bonding with the chimpanzees, we took the imagery to a warmer and more saturated place. Then there are portions of the film in which many of the chimps are very sick. It’s a grisly time and we went with a much cooler, less pleasant palette.

“A lot of times what we’re seeing is the result of someone filming wildly,” Stipan admits, “but now it’s part of a movie, not just footage. We made the forest rich, treating it as if it were eye candy, to give the viewer a real sense of the place and to enhance the context for Jane, who is there alone with her notebook, documenting the chimpanzees.”

Morgen can get quite experimental in the grading theater, Stipan says. “He likes to take things further than I might normally go to see what we can get. How much saturation can we add? How far can we push the warmth in a scene or how cool can we take it? He works very much by feel. He wanted to see a rose-colored dusk sky. It’s not something I would have thought of but I think it works very well in the context of the film. I can’t speak to exactly why he liked it, but to me it acts as a wake-up call for the next scene. You say, ‘My eyes are stimulated in an unexpected way with this color,’ and it makes you sit up and pay attention.

“The film is very powerful from start to finish,” Stipan concludes. “It’s fascinating to see all this incredible material from a scientific and historical perspective alone.”