93 minutes| U.K.| 2011| Colour| D-Cinema

An ill-fated experiment to teach a chimpanzee human speech provides the basis for another compelling piece of celluloid storytelling from James Marsh, Oscar-winning maker of the Twin Towers tightrope chronicle Man on Wire. Wrenched from his mother at birth, one Nim Chimpsky was the alert little primate chosen to be raised like one of the family in a Manhattan household, the object being to teach him sign-language and then record how he used it to communicate. In theory, it sounds benign enough, but as events unfold – handily, much of what went on was captured on film and early videotape – the ethical dilemmas intensify, and Marsh’s eagle eye brings out the bitter contradictions inherent in punishing a wild creature for behaving, well, like a wild creature. Troubling animal welfare issues aside, the humans come across as an almost comically unscrupulous and self-absorbed lot in Marsh’s brilliantly revealing interviews. If you were Nim, why would you have wanted to talk to these people? (Notes by Trevor Johnston).

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