In Project Nim, James Marsh, the acclaimed director of 2008’s astounding documentary Man on Wire, returns to tell the story of Nim Chimpsky, a baby chimpanzee at the center of a 1970’s Columbia University experiment that ultimately (and painfully) offers scientific — and emotional — insight into the intimate relationship between man and his closest animal relative. Nurtured, breast-fed (yes), taught sign language, and integrated as an actual child of a host family in Manhattan, Nim dutifully learns to communicate with people via sign language as researchers literally try to turn the rambunctious chimp into a human. The experiment is carefully documented, on paper and on film, and Marsh’s cinematic piece unfolds with archival footage and present-day interviews with all of those involved in Nim’s life. With so much at stake, including project funding, researchers clutch to their goals in the face of opposition, and of course, at the risk of Nim’s own happiness.
Despite its uncomfortable topic, the film has already achieved Certified Freshness with a 94% review on Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Simon Foster sums it up this way: “Project Nim ruminates on ideas of ‘nature versus nurture’ but these are by no means the only contentious issues raised in this complex, heartbreaking work.” Fascinating, tragic, and profound, Project Nim will certainly both attract and repulse audiences, especially those with issues around animal experimentation. What’s attracting US to the film is Marsh, whose astounding storytelling in Man on Wire won us over. And speaking of Man on Wire, if you haven’t seen this breathtaking film, do it ASAP! It’s an historical, movie-making journey you don’t want to miss:
Similar in spirit to Werner Herzog‘s Grizzly Man (another must-see), Project Nim is hot off the festival circuit, including Florida, Seattle, L.A., Edinburgh and Utah’s Sundance. But will it inject a change in the way we view our animal friends, and ourselves? If we’ve piqued your interest in James Marsh’s newest feat, keep a lookout for show times — especially at Cambridge’s Kendall Square Cinema — starting this Friday, July 8!
– For more insight, read the IFC article, “James Marsh’s Pet ‘Project Nim‘” (July 4) –