Ready for a real life Black Beauty-esq story told through the eyes of the real life chimpanzee, Nim Chimpsky, who was forced into a cruel and pointless experiment by scientists who were trying to get laid with their new “scientific program?” Well then you’re ready for Academy Award winning director James Marsh’s latest documentary, Project Nim, which opened the Sundance 2011 Festival with a bang and a number of tears. This film has yet again confirmed to me that yes, human beings are the most pompous species of all time that assume that the laws of nature and past research do not apply to their elevated level of intelligence.

The Players:

  • Director: James Marsh
  • Executive Producer: John Battsek, Andrew Ruhemann, Nick Fraser, Hugo Grumbar, Jamie Laurenson
  • Producer: Simon Chinn
  • Composer: Dickon Hinchliffe
  • Cinematographer: Michael Simmonds
  • Editor: Jinx Godfrey

Though this film deals with the subject matter well and shows you the entire 26 years of Nim’s sometimes joyful and other times traumatic life, much like in all documentaries, it’s obvious that most of the film was left on the cutting room floor. There were so many things left out, but the one I found most upsetting was a lack of any kind of redemption or call to action for the audience. And here’s why….

Not to digress too far but I have had experience with animal rescue, specifically saving race horses, which may not be the same as a chimp, but both animals are large, energetic, and quite expensive and time consuming. I can tell you that the mission I was on, though filled with good intention was very much a failure because we were never able to scale the project nor give the animals everything they needed. Seeing this same situation unfold in the film but in much worse ways, with people who were not there for to help the animal was horrifying.

The basic idea of the scientist running the Nim program was that “if you raise a chimp like a human, it will more or less become human”. INSANE. From the very start of the film a “scientist” gives a baby chimp to a lady he’s banging for her to raise. This stand up mom doesn’t like keep charts of what Nim’s doing, doesn’t speak sign language (like she’s supposed to), gets the baby chimp drunk and high, BREAST feeds it when he’s little and then lets him fondle her when she’s older… and that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even begun to talk about the other people who worked with Nim because they were banging the head scientist, the eventual chemical testing and more….

All that being SAID! The film has quite a bit of humor and the characters in it were like none a writer could ever create. Though some of the story lines were a bit over-done, for the most part the people in the film were actually the focus, Nim was merely the way of being able to tell who they really were and somehow glorify all their faults.

It was incredibly well made and it is a great documentary, but I’m not sure what the points of the journey way? This was the FIRST film ever that I almost had to walk out of because of how painful it was to watch. I found myself needing to reach out and do something more than just sit there and watch this horrible story, which I knew would only get worse unfold in front of me.


The film left us on a slightly uplifting note, but with no way to reach out and do something. Yes the story took place in the 70′s-90′s, but why show it to us unless it’s relevant, and if you’re going to move people to want to do something, you have to show them how they can do something to help!

Rating: Unratable – Love it but Can’t Stand to Watch It

Video Review:

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Watch more video review from the Festival on ScreenCrave’s YouTube Channel!