"I wanted to talk to the animals like Dr. Dolittle."
And so she did.
Jane Goodall, whose love of animals first led her to the Kenya highlands in 1957. Who then went to work for famed scientist Louis Leakey. And soon after was introduced to the world as she graced the cover of National Geographic — the brilliant, beautiful British woman who studied the life of chimpanzees from deep inside Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.
Today, Goodall travels an average 300 days per year, speaking about the threats facing chimpanzees and other environmental crises.
I was excited to learn that Goodall, to commemorate a half century since she first journeyed to Africa to study the behavior of the wild chimpanzee, would be appearing in movie theaters nationwide via satellite to share her incredible life's journey.
The event takes place at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 (tape delayed) and will be available in theaters throughout Orange County, including Century 20 at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach.
It's called "Jane Goodall Live," and the presentation will feature special guests (including musician Dave Matthews and actress Charlize Theron) as well as the national premiere of the multimillion-dollar cinematic biography "Jane's Journey" (with appearances by Academy Award-winner Angelina Jolie and Pierce Brosnan.)
I saw an advance of the film, and it is stunning. It follows Goodall during diverse days across three continents, viewing chimpanzees in the jungle and hippos in steamy pools in Tanzania; encountering explosive, calving glaciers in Greenland; and meeting challenged youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. You'll also get to marvel at 45-year-old 8mm film footage shot during Goodall's first years in the African forest, which was recently discovered in her home in Britain.
I had the rare pleasure of interviewing Goodall for my column this week, and I hope you enjoy the insights so generously provided by this legendary woman.
In the film, you talk about how you looked to the chimps' motherhood habits and thought about how humans might learn from your early observations. When you had your son, did you tap into things you learned in the jungle?
I realized that early experience was very important in shaping an adult chimpanzee's behavior. I also learned that it was important for an infant to have trusting relationships with especially the mother, and other close family members or friends. Chimp mothers distract a small infant from doing something they shouldn't rather than punish — which they do as a child gets older (such as quick bite to hand, threat grunt, etc.).
And I decided that for our offspring, also, distraction rather than punishment was good until a child truly knows what is good and bad. I definitely applied all of the above to raising my own son. I never left him for a single night until he was three years old, and even then only with my own mother or close friend. People said he would grow up to be clinging and dependent. As I had believed, the opposite was true — he was confident and unafraid.
How hard was/is the transition for you from time spent in the jungle to now being such an ambassador for so many valuable causes? Did you find yourself missing the solitude and study in the wild? Is it hard to achieve a balance?
When I left the forest for my life on the road (in 1986), I was so passionate to make a difference—to help conserve chimpanzees and their forests and to improve things for captive chimpanzees, especially in medical research labs—that I hardly had time to miss the forest! I do believe I carry the peace of the forest within. And I can recapture some of the peace being with trees. I still visit Gombe twice a year for a couple of days at a time to recharge my batteries. I think I have a pretty good balance.
What advice do you have for parents in terms of how to teach children at an early age the importance of conservation and environmental awareness?
I would love parents to check out the http://www.rootsandshoots.org website and involve their children in a Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots group. Roots & Shoots is a growing movement that involves groups of young people of all ages (preschool through university and beyond) in projects that they themselves choose (1) to help people, (2) to help animals and (3) to help the environment.
The program began in Tanzania in 1991 with 12 high school students. It is now in 125 countries and growing. In some countries and U.S. states, there is a curriculum for the whole school. All students then get sensitized to environmental and social issues, and there will be more who want to become actively involved in projects to change the world. It is changing young people's lives as I speak, building up a network of caring and compassionate people who truly care and want to do something about the millions of problems in the world today.
What do you feel is the simplest way for people to get involved in helping the environment — people that lead increasingly complex, over-burdened lives?
If everyone would spend a few minutes thinking about the consequences of the choices they make each day. What they eat, wear, buy. Where did it come from? Did it pollute the environment? Did it involve animal suffering or child slave labor or sweatshop labor? Could it be obtained from a source closer to home — less travel miles, less pollution? Bike instead of car, carpool, mass transit (if that exists)? I find people start making small changes when they start thinking like this. Sometimes this leads to bigger changes. And millions, even billions of even small changes can lead to big change.
Did you imagine, way back in the beginning during your first excursions, that your life would take the meaningful course that it has?
Of course not! That would have been the most improbable thing. But I did imagine writing books that I hoped people would read so they could better understand. As time went on, it was simply that one thing led to another and led me logically from one step to the next.
Tickets for "Jane Goodall Live" are available at participating theater box offices and online at http://www.fathomevents.com. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom website (theaters and participants are subject to change).
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.