Brett Morgen Interview: ‘Jane’ documentary
“I’ve never met anyone more comfortable in their own skin,” describes director Brett Morgen of the most captivating thing about Dr. Jane Goodall, the subject of his Emmy nominated documentary, “Jane,” in our recent webchat (watch the video above). “She’s so committed to making this world a better place for us — not for her. And I think that’s why she has an almost saint-like quality to her. It’s that selflessness and that determination.” Morgen adds that at first, Dr. Goodall didn’t want to have anything to do with the documentary but all that changed once she viewed the finished product.
Morgen’s acclaimed NatGeo documentary centers on Dr. Goodall’s research with chimpanzees in Gombe that’s set to recently unearthed footage shot by Hugo van Lawick during her first visit to the region in 1960. The film racked up seven Emmy nominations this year including four for Morgen: Nonfiction Picture Editing, Nonfiction Writing, Nonfiction Directing and Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. It also scored nominations for Cinematography, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (all for Nonfiction Programming).
Morgen also tells us that getting to view the 16 mm footage that had been shot by van Lawick was an amazing experience and that he views it as “one of the most important pieces of 16 mm film of the 20th century on both a scientific and cinematic level.” He elaborates that it was important scientifically because the research that was being conducted had never been documented before. The cinematic importance of the footage was how van Lawick, who had never shot this level of footage, was able to go to the jungle and capture what he did with no formal lighting or production. “For him to do that all by himself is a feat I can’t even begin to comprehend.”
This is not Morgen’s first time getting Emmy recognition. Three years ago his HBO documentary, “Cobain: Montage of Heck” received the same seven nominations that “Jane” did, with the exception of Documentary Filmmaking since “Heck” was nominated for Documentary or Nonfiction Special. He is very grateful for the recognition that the film has received over the year but he is particularly appreciative of the recognition that’s been bestowed on one specific aspect of the film. “When National Geographic asked me if there was one award I would to see this film secure, I told them, ‘Sound.'” He adds, “Our sound team deserves the recognition. They created one of the most elaborate nature film soundtracks I’ve ever heard. We have two years of sound editing creating that thing from scratch using 50 years of field recordings. That sound team did extraordinary work beyond my wildest dreams.”