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A Journey from Tanzania to the Academy Awards with Jane Goodall

A portrait of Jane Goodall while the documentary was being shot in Tanzania.
A portrait of Jane Goodall while the documentary was being shot in Tanzania.
Andre Zacher Neos Film CC Medien

The list of nominees for this year's Academy Award for Documentary Feature is out. Of the 15 films, two of them focus on environmental issues and the people and organizations who influence them: "Jane's Journey" and "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front."

Jane's Journey, written and directed by Lorenz Knauer, traces famed primatologist Jane Goodall's life. From her childhood to her life in Tanzania, where she began research on chimpanzees in 1960, to her current work as an activist, the documentary looks at her message and international influence both in her research and advocacy.

Now, 77, she speaks around the world and raises money for the Jane Goodall Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to understanding and preserving apes and inspiring young people to care about animals and the environment. Readers can get an early inside look at Goodall's life on her blog, which chronicles her travels with photos and videos.

The documentary was filmed in Tanzania, England, USA, Australia, and Greenland, and was released Sept. 16. 

As a girl in England, Goodall dreamed of living with animals. She jumped at the chance to visit a friend's farm in Kenya as a young woman, quitting her job and moving back home to work as a waitress to save for her travel fare, according to her stie.

Three years later, she was a research assistant studying chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. She discovered the animals used simple tools to collect food, a surprising realization because the trait was attributed solely to humans.

Her observations showed that chimps are more like humans than anyone had imagined. They could be kind and altruistic or violent and cruel. She was inspired, and began traveling the world to advocate for conservation. Her book, The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, was published in 1986 and chronicles 25 years of her observations, research and analysis.

Goodall writes on her site that in spite of the seemingly insurmountable problems in the world, she is able to base her hope for the future on four factors: That humans are beginning to understand that the future depends on the Earths, and thus can begin to solve the problem of protecting it, the unyielding human spirit, the resilience of nature and the energy and passion of young people.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as we look around the world. We are losing species at a terrible rate, the balance of nature is disturbed, and we are destroying our beautiful planet. We have fear about water supplies, where future energy will come from – and most recently the developed world has been mired in an economic crisis. But in spite of all this I do have hope.

Reviews are mixed about the film. The New York Times said it was intellectually flat but it "skirts by on the lightly likable charm of its subject," and the Village Voice called it "journalistically lame."

The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre. Check back tomorrow for the scoop on "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,"which looks at the motives and development of the ELF, by Marshall Curry Productions, LLC.