One of the most striking things I learned from meeting Disneynature’s Chimpanzee’s directors, Alastair Fothergill and Mark Lindfield, is that the movie that almost wasn’t. The story told by following Oscar and his tribe is one that no one could have imagined, in fact, when tragedy initially struck the directors were nearly certain they would have to call Disney to say the movie was off. Then something miraculous happened, and the result made for a fabulous movie with happy ending. (Really fabulous, read my Chimpanzee review here.)
Besides nearly scrapping the entire project due the chimps going “off script” shall we say, filming in the jungle wasn’t a piece of cake either. The 78-minute film was produced from more than thousands of hours of footage shot over the course of three and half years deep in the heart of the African jungle. As Fothergill related, the cameramen were happy if they were able to get a single shot in a day. A single shot.
Among the obstacles the crew endured were treacherous roads, dense foliage blocking the camera’s view and roaming chimps who typically travel 12-15 kilometers (approximately 7-9 miles) a day over very rough terrain. Their efforts paid off and the result is a film with breathtaking cinematography that gives the illusion that the filmmakers where right next to the chimpanzees. But the closeness is deceptive, in fact, the directors said the crew never got closer than 7 meters (approx 23 feet) from the chimpanzees. Those are impressive telephoto lenses.
I was fascinated listening to Fothergill and Lindfield reacount the story of capturing little Oscar’s story and the measures taken to protect the chimps for the human presence. Among the cautions, the crew always wore the same green clothing — different from that of poachers so the chimps wouldn’t become accustomed to just any human among them. The filmmakers were also careful not to never eat or pee in front of the chimps (they even carried their waste out of the jungle with them in bags). I was surprised to learn that it was important for them to wear face masks, not for their own well being but for the chimps, which are very susceptible to human diseases.
Fun fact – Chimpanzees and humans share about 95-97 percent of DNA. A human could have a blood transfusion with a chimpanzee. A chimpanzee cannot have a blood transfusion with a gorilla.
Take a look at this making of the film clip from the directors:
Chimpanzee opens in theaters April 20, 2012, and a portion of ticket sales from the first week go to support the Jane Goodall Institute.
See Chimpanzee, Save Chimpanzees!
Disclosure – I was invited to a Chimpanzee premiere blogger event, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.