Tale of chimp "Nim" gains strong buzz at Sundance

Fri Jan 21, 2011 4:55pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Steering clear of labeling it an animal rights film, "Man on Wire" director James Marsh has returned to the documentary world by examining a chimpanzee famed in the 1970s for being raised like a human.

"Project Nim," the British director's first documentary since his Oscar-winning "Man on Wire," premiered at the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday to strong audience buzz and solid reviews.

Marsh, who finished editing the film three days ago, told Reuters on Friday that "Project Nim" offered as many lessons about how humans see themselves as it does about chimps.

"It's not an animal rights movie; it's not an activist kind of film," he said. "It's an animal life story but in fact, within that there is this great, interesting interaction with human beings and we are learning a bit about ourselves too."

Comic and touching, 'Project Nim' follows the 1970s research project that made headlines for experimenting with a chimp named "Nim," seized as a baby and placed with a human mother in New York City who tried to raise him like her own children.

The film uses extensive video footage that follows Nim as he is raised in nappies, taught sign language and tragically passed through various caretakers. He grows from being an affectionate, mischievous baby to a stronger, cunning adult who eventually meets other chimpanzees with curious results.

"He doesn't know anything about what he is, he just sees human beings and so the film and indeed, the experiment, becomes about nature and nurture. If you nurture a sentient animal, what and how can you influence him? And the answer is in the film," Marsh said. "We discover quite quickly that he has his own unique chimpanzee nature."

NIM STUDIES US   Continued...

<p>Director James Marsh poses for a portrait while promoting the film "Project Nim" in Park City, Utah January 21, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>