Disappointed with his recent dabble in fiction with Shadow Dancer at this year’s Berlinale, I was excited to see James Marsh fall back on familiar documentary territory with Project Nim.
Nim Chimpsky is a chimpanzee who managed the unique feat of learning sign language after being raised like a human by behaviour scientist Herb Terrace and his team of lab-coat lackeys. Interviews with Nim’s trainers and other key researchers are combined with archival footage to offer incredible insight into the experiment that would forever alter our perceptions regarding the differences between man and beast.
As with all his films, Marsh displays a comprehensive attention to detail, often verging on the superfluous. Fortunately enough, the facts are balanced with a hefty heart and soul in Project Nim, much like all the participants who were fortunate enough to meet the exceptional primate.
In short, Project Nim is a tragic and gripping documentary, telling as much about the domestication of animals as well as the complex, meddling and possessive nature of human anthropology.
Go on, have a banana!