Chimpanzee – Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield (2012)

The Chimpanzee is a heavily anthropomorphosized docu-feature movie targeting young audiences. It was filmed on multiple locations including Ta├» National Park in southwestern Ivory Coast, Ngogo and Kibale national parks in Uganda and Gabon by two British nature filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. Martyn Colbeck was the person behind the camera. Tim Allen did the narration. Filmmakers stitched the footage recorded in these locations and consolidated into a single story creating a drama around an orphaned baby Chimpanzee they named as “Oscar”. The character “Oscar” was played by 5 different chimpanzees. The footage consists of extraordinarily well captured behavior and deserves kudos (see a short snipped below showing behind the scenes). The filming team spent 700 days in the Ivorian rain forest alone between September 2008 and September 2011.

During production filmmakers consulted with primatologists including Christophe Boesch, the head of the primatology division at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the eastern German city of Leipzig; Jane Goodall and anthropologist David Watts of the Yale University. Christophe Boesch, participated in the filming in the Ivory Coast. David Watts was consulted for war and hunting. These experts agree that the behavior captured and depicted are accurate except adoption: A young male chimp was in fact orphaned during the filming and was adopted by an older male chimp, but this individual died a few months after losing its mother. In real life, adoption does not elevate the survival probability for most orphaned chimpanzees. An article that Boesch and his colleagues published in PLoS ONE in January 2010 provides the true account of what had happened. This account didn’t match to the claims in the film’s official press kit and received a slight criticism.

“Fredy, the 3rd ranking male of the East Group, adopted Victor, the son of Vanessa, who died from Anthrax in late December 2008, and shared his nest with him every night, carried him on his back for all long travels, and shared the Coula nuts he opened from December 2008 to July 2009. For example, on February 17th, Fredy cracked 196 Coula nuts for 2h05mn and shared pieces of 79% of them. This gives a measure of the altruistic investment made in an unrelated infant.”

Many docu-fiction films, despite their choreographed nature capture and document real situations. One of the earliest docu-feature films such as the Nanook of the North (1922) or Moana by Robert Flaherty captivated the audience by recording the events in their natural settings. In this regard The Chimpanzee can easily be forgiven for cooking up a story. All the chimpanzees filmed are behaviorally acclimatized to the presence of Humans due to long-term observations by researchers in the field. For this reason behaviors recorded are natural. Among these behavior are tool use (breaking nuts with stones) tool making (catching termites by a stripped twig), arboreal nest building, troop formation, territorial warfare, coordinated hunting of colobus monkeys and hierarchical social behavior.

Research has pointed that female chimpanzees are highly influential for transmitting cultural traits and maintaining cultural diversity. Females move in between communities. Males fail to do so since other males never tolerate new incoming potential rivals. Females bring novel cultural traits and increase the cultural diversity of the community. Parallel to the migration of females groups sharing a culture also have a distinct genetic make up. Female genes therefore can delineate borders of cultural regions. Mitochondria (power generating organelles in higher organisms) are transmitted from mothers to their offspring and have its own DNA. Analysis of chimpanzee mitochondrial DNA has shown just that.



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