Nim, the main test subject for the film "Project Nim". Photo by Harry Benson
Sundance Film Festival
Director: James Marsh
The creative team behind the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary “Man on Wire” offers their distinctive blended style of filmmaking to the tale of a chimpanzee, Nim, who was raised from birth in the same fashion as one would raise a human child for a scientific experiment to determine whether primates can communicate with humans via sign language. In November 1973, a Columbia University professor, Herb Terrace, initiated the research project and hired primarily female students to provide parenting and educational lessons for the developing chimpanzee. While the progressions of Nim’s abilities were astonishing, the dysfunctional and inappropriate relationships conducted between teacher and students proved harmful for everyone involved. As the gifted primate endured abandonment issues and unthinkable mistreatments, Nim’s true animalistic nature surfaced bringing the debate of how much development had actually occurred into question. Marsh seamlessly blends intimate interviews, archival footage, candid photography and dramatizations to unveil a touching glimpse of how unacceptable human behavior can affect those around you, even beyond our own species. The film takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster complete with humorous recollections of Nim’s appreciation for marijuana and alcohol to heartbreaking memories of animal lab testing programs. Animal cruelty aside, the most disturbing component comes from the overtly perverse actions of Terrace whose careless actions and unapologetic attitude make him the true beast of the story.