A worshipful tribute to the life and work of Jane Goodall, Lorenz Knauer’s docu “Jane’s Journey” wisely keeps its remarkable subject center-stage throughout, allowing her serene energy to focus the narrative as she recounts her journey from animal conservationist to environmental activist to global humanitarian. Knauer blunders into chirpy advertorial territory with a hokey inspirational montage under an even hokier song midway through, but this mood-destroying passage is mercifully brief. Educational pic could travel almost as extensively as does the indefatigable Goodall, given the soft-spoken, mesmerizing conviction of a woman whom one award presenter dubs an “environmental superstar.”
“Journey”s first leg takes place in Tanzania’s Gombe preserve, where Goodall began as a 23-year-old with no degree or particular training outside of an open mind and love for animals. Present-day HD footage of the white-haired Goodall socializing with chimpanzees alternates with archival excerpts of a young blonde just getting to know the simian locals. These 8mm clips also serve to introduce her first husband, nature photog Hugo van Lawick, while homemovies of an even earlier Goodall illustrate her recollections of English childhood.
Once out of Gombe, the docu gets caught up in the whirlwind of activities and obligations that keeps this intrepid primatologist and U.N. Messenger of Peace busy traveling 300 days a year. Knauer presents snippets of her various public appearances, award receptions and speaking engagements on behalf of the Jane Goodall Institute, with particular emphasis placed on the burgeoning Roots and Shoots project, which currently numbers hundreds of grassroots organizations worldwide but started humbly with 16 youths. Formally, this is the docu’s weakest section, dwelling on meet-and-greets and autograph signings with fans.
The final phase of “Journey” features more in-depth jaunts: to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, ravaged by alcoholism and suicide (the site of a Roots and Shoots garden project); to Greenland, where huge slabs of falling ice spectacularly signal the inexorable progress of global warming; to a Congolese refugee camp where the camera zeroes in on the faces of children running alongside the Jeep as Goodall tackles the problem of population displacement.
Pic ends at a Tanzania forest pool where a “hippo whisperer,” whose family has protected the giant beasts for generations, projects his voice across the water, to magical effect.