"“The film manages to tug at your heartstrings, just in opposite directions…”"

It seems somewhat ironic that Project: Nim is set to be released in the same week that Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes out. Two films, both based around the idea of installing intelligence into apes, yet one is fictional, one is not.

Project: Nim is a feature-length documentary, from the Oscar-winning team behind Man on a Wire, about the nurturing of a chimpanzee called Nim. When the chimp was just a baby, it was sent off to live with an American family, and to be raised as a human being, as part of a scientific experiment in order to determine whether or not apes could think like a human and participate in communication with various people through the medium of sign language.

The film touched upon the light-hearted and somewhat endearing aspect to raising an ape like you would a human child, with images of baby Nim wearing human clothes and acting and communicating like a person would. In that respect it is charming and amiable, triggering the “aaw” emotions inside all of us.

However, at points the film turns as it tells of the negative effects human nurturing can have on a chimp, whilst also delving into the disturbing would of animal testing, of which Nim was a victim.

In many respects the film, despite being a documentary, does almost follow a distinct path, chronologically covering Nim’s life, featuring a host of likeable protagonists and sinister antagonists throughout. Some of Nim’s carers and friends, so to speak, grew to become very attached to Nim and cared greatly about his journey, both mentally and scientifically. However, there were also the bad guys; the insensitive brains behind the project Herbert S. Terrace, and the disconcerting, immoral scientists working for Lemsip Primate Lab. Although some of the characters that seemed cruel and ruthless early on soon paled in comparison to characters met as the film progressed.

Despite telling a fascinating tale, insightful and educational whilst also emotional and quite moving at times, my apprehension towards the film is certainly with the lack of footage. Due to the story being set mostly in the 1970’s, it’s more of a reflective documentary about something that previously happened, not a live, original piece filmed at the time for the purposes of the production. As a result, the film is lacking in it’s variety of footage, and relies mainly on the information passed on by various talking heads. Don’t get me wrong, they provide interesting material which sharply recalls the story of Nim, but it would have been more affecting had we actually seen the footage of some of the stories they were recapping.

Although there is a lack of footage, what exists is still very moving and well put together, as the film manages to tug at your heartstrings, just in opposite directions, as you flick between being happy and finding the humorous aspects to the feature, to striking a balance and feeling quite uncomfortable and distressed, as you follow the story and project, of the helpless and susceptible chimpanzee.

So with a choice of ape-related films to go and see at the end of the week, if you only fancy seeing the one - I’d simply offer the advice that if you want to go and see a poignant tale of real and shocking events that won’t fail to move you, then Project: Nim is a safe bet.