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Watch > Episode > Brett Morgen - Making “Jane”, The Groundbreaking Jane Goodall Documentary

Brett Morgen - Making “Jane”, The Groundbreaking Jane Goodall Documentary


Brett Morgen is a successful filmmaker whose work includes documentaries on The Rolling Stones, Kurt Cobain and now the pioneering primatologist, Jane Goodall. In the realm of documentary filmmaking, few names resonate as strongly: renowned for his unique storytelling approach and the ability to breathe life into archival footage, Morgen has left an indelible mark on the world of film. This interview delves into the life, career, and cinematic achievements of Brett Morgen, shedding light on the creative genius behind documentaries that transcend traditional storytelling boundaries, focussing on his latest project, “Jane”, a documentary on the acclaimed primatologist Jane Goodall.

Brett Morgen was born on October 20, 1968, and from an early age, he displayed a keen interest in storytelling through the visual medium. His journey into filmmaking began with a passion for crafting narratives that could captivate audiences and evoke a range of emotions. This early enthusiasm set the stage for Morgen’s future as a groundbreaking documentary filmmaker.

Morgen’s breakthrough came with his documentary “On the Ropes” (1999), which followed the lives of three young boxers from a Brooklyn gym. The film earned critical acclaim for its raw and intimate portrayal of the characters, showcasing Morgen’s ability to connect with his subjects on a profound level. This early success established Morgen as a filmmaker with a unique voice and a commitment to authentic storytelling.

In 2002, Brett Morgen directed “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” a documentary that employed innovative techniques to bring the memoir of Hollywood producer Robert Evans to life. The film utilised a combination of archival footage, animated sequences, and voiceovers to create a dynamic and visually stunning narrative. Morgen’s approach was groundbreaking, challenging traditional documentary conventions and pushing the boundaries of storytelling in the medium.

Morgen continued to make waves in the documentary world with “Crossfire Hurricane” (2012), a film that chronicled the tumultuous history of the Rolling Stones. Once again, Morgen demonstrated his ability to craft a narrative that went beyond a mere chronological retelling of events. The film was praised for its intimate look at the band’s journey, using unseen footage and interviews to provide a fresh perspective on the iconic rock legends.

His new film “Jane” draws from over 100 hours of never before seen footage that has been in National Geographic’s archive for over 50 years. Critics are calling it “one of the best documentaries of 2017”.

When the National Geographic Society decided to make a movie from their most precious footage they went straight to Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen.

The brief seemed simple. National Geographic wanted to use never-before-seen colour film of legendary primatologist Jane Goodall in the field during her groundbreaking 1960s chimpanzee study. This lost archive captured Goodall, herself a past London Real guest, doing the work which would radically alter human understanding not just of ape society, but our own.

National Geographic wanted to make a movie that paid homage to a pioneer in her field. But how did he do it? Brett joins us to explain the story of how a project he thought would never get anywhere became a surprise hit and powerful testament to one of the most influential figures of our times.

Brett Morgen’s impact on the world of documentary filmmaking extends beyond his individual projects. His work reflects a commitment to the art of storytelling, using a combination of innovative techniques, rich narratives, and deep connections with his subjects to create films that resonate with audiences on a profound level. Morgen’s documentaries not only inform but also inspire, fostering a deeper understanding of the human experience and the world around us.

As Brett Morgen continues to shape the landscape of documentary filmmaking, his legacy is cemented as a trailblazer who defies conventions and pushes the boundaries of storytelling. With each project, Morgen leaves an indelible mark on the medium, showcasing the power of film to illuminate untold stories and connect audiences with the human experience. As audiences eagerly anticipate Morgen’s future endeavours, one thing remains certain: his impact on the world of cinema will endure for generations to come.


00:00 | Trailer
02:43 Brian’s thoughts on the episode
05:49 Brian’s introduction
06:16 Making documentaries about the lives of two totally different people
11:31 Effect of combination of Hugo van Lawick’s filming whilst falling in love with Jane and her stunning looks
14:27 Historical and cultural significance of Jane’s work was as profound as landing a ship on the moon
19:22 Jane’s story is significant for children and parents in what it teaches and particularly to woman’s role today
23:07 Why Brett thinks a man could not have done the work Jane did
25:30 Brett shares his passion for the art of making documentaries when describing how he develops his ideas
37:06 His totally intense immersive style of documentary
40:29 Brett’s personality traits, a tsunami of emotions and abrasiveness, have underpinned his documentaries
46:33 Success secrets
47:06 Brett’s working relationship with the iconic National Geographic and why he wanted a different film title
50:46 Gender and cultural reasons why Americans more than British seem always to have embraced Jane Goodall
53:01 Jane Goodall continues to travel 300 days a year, dedicating her life to making this world a better place
55:34 Dealing with being in the spotlight56:30 Reflections on Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck and why it focussed a lot on Kurt’s childhood
57:34 Incomparably harder to do documentary than fiction but a genre Brett loves and finds most satisfying to do
1:01:53 The importance of a film score
1:06:11 Advice to the young aspiring documentary film maker
1:06:34 Brian’s summing up.


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