It’s Project Nim, out from Lionsgate on DVD. Here’s what they have to say for themselves:
Director James Marsh’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Man on Wire is an equally engrossing look at the fault lines and danger zones between man and beast. Using a combination of archival footage, current interviews, and (some unfortunately rather stiff) re-creations, Marsh tells the sad tale of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised as a human child under a Columbia University sign language study led by Professor Herbert S. Terrace. Beginning with his birth in 1973, Nim was shuttled between a variety of tragicomedic environments (including a free-form hippie household, an idyllic mansion in the countryside, and a terrifyingly mundane lab) while growing increasingly powerful and difficult to control. Eschewing the Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock on-camera method, the director here hangs back from the spotlight, preferring to give his interviewees enough room to damn or praise themselves, a decision that works wonders–particularly in the case of Terrace, whose casual arrogance, blithe dismissals, and attitude towards his (mostly female) assistants come together to form a perfect storm of ’70s chauvinism. Commendably, the film also moves beyond the specifics of the case, and examines the basic danger of anthropomorphizing wild animals, graphically illustrating the superhuman strength and strange nature of its subject. (Animal lovers should be warned about Nim’s attitude towards house pets infringing on his turf.) While the transitions between reality and re-created footage do feel a bit clunky (it’s difficult not to imagine what Werner Herzog might have made of this), Project Nim is a spellbinding, occasionally outraging documentary that should leave viewers pondering their place in the animal kingdom, as well as the wisdom of tampering in God’s domain. The zoo will never seem the same.
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