You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

National Geographic Team Revives the World of Jane Goodall With Enhanced Footage

Brett Morgen has been making archival-footage documentaries for 20 years — most notably “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and “Cobain: Montage of Heck.” So when National Geographic head of original programming Tim Pastore called him to say they’d found some “forgotten” footage, as Morgen likes to put it, of scientist and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall’s first months at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, it was a good day.

The result was the critically acclaimed feature documentary “Jane,” released in theaters last fall and set to premiere commercial-free on the National Geographic channel March 12.

The film melds 1960s footage with Goodall’s voiceover narration and present-day interviews that feature her. Morgen’s passion for this type of documentary harks back to his days attending Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. — a school he admittedly picked because Ken Burns is a graduate.

Morgen worked hand in hand with cinematographer Ellen Kuras on camera placement and lighting to optimize and enhance the moment of the interviews. “Often in documentary interviews,” he says, “there’s one lighting setup and one camera position, changing only focal length. With ‘Jane,’ the interviews were constructed so that it would appear to go from morning light into evening light and then into a brand-new day.”

To achieve the effect, Kuras used the Arri Amira camera. “Brett carefully structured his questions for Jane so that we would have a number of opportunities to shift the lighting and the camera positions to capture the change in light during the course of the day,” says Kuras, a longtime animal rights activist. “It was a very astute and creative idea [in order to] subtly influence how the audience experienced the story.”

For the last questions of the interview, and hence for the film, Morgen wanted it to feel like a new day. Kuras says the idea was to achieve a brighter, sunnier and lighter ending. “In effect, [it’s] a new beginning,” she says. “This leaves us with a feeling that defines Jane — bright, clear-eyed and hopeful.”

The original footage — 16mm Kodak color reversal film — constituted about 10% of the 750 hours of material for the doc. The team also sourced the wildlife films shot on Bolex cameras by Hugo van Lawick, Goodall’s husband at the time. Then Morgen, Company 3 colorist Tim Stipan and Kuras logged 250 hours of color-correction work (a process known as grading).

Old 16mm footage can sometimes look stale and off-color, but the “Jane” team succeeded in bringing those images to life. They graded the color, leaning heavily toward blues and greens, then went on to contrast grading, changing the focus on certain elements in the frame and shifting the contrast.

Morgen credits the process for Goodall’s verdict after viewing the documentary: “When Jane saw the finished film, she said it was the first time Gombe had ever been realized on film as it exists in her mind.”

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content