Though Sundance audiences will have to wait until Thursday to see the hotly anticipated documentary "Project Nim," fans of the story will be pleased to know that the film has found a home. HBO recently acquired all domestic rights to James Marsh’s latest, which is the opening night film in the World Cinema Documentary Competition in this year's Park City showcase. The bar for this film was high, as Marsh’s last project, "Man on Wire," won the 2008 Sundance Grand Jury and Audience prizes, and went on to win an Academy Award for best documentary.
"Project Nim" is based on Elizabeth Hess's book, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, which tells the story of a chimpanzee who was raised like a human child and taught American Sign Language while living with his “adoptive family” in their Manhattan townhouse in the 1970s. The study was conducted at Columbia University, and led by Herbert S. Terrace. Terrace was in favor of conducting research on chimpanzees to better understand the human brain. From the book:
Convinced that comparative studies between humans and chimpanzees would lead to new insights into the evolution of the human brain, something researchers still knew very little about, Lemmon wanted to find out everything he possibly could about chimpanzee behavior and early development. The key, he believed, was raising the chimps in human homes, where their "humanness" could be reinforced and made more distinct and observable. Lemmon planned to cultivate a colony of human-raised chimps that were kept isolated from members of their own species, and a parallel colony of chimps reared by their natural mothers and living in a large social group. When in a whimsical mood, he wondered, occasionally to the press, whether or not chimps could learn to talk, understand the value of a dollar, or drive cars. As of yet no one had proved otherwise. Chimp genetics, DNA forensics, the discovery of AIDS, the Endangered Species Act, and Project Nim were still years ahead.
"Project Nim" marks the second Sundance film whose rights were purchased; earlier this month "The Music Never Stopped," based on the story The Last Hippie by Dr. Oliver Sacks, was picked up by Roadside Attractions.
With so much news breaking before the first curtain has even risen, we can say with certainty that opening night will be a thrill. Word & Film will be on the ground covering the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, coming to you with more stories as they happen.
Heading to Sundance this year? Plan your trip with Fodor’s Park City Travel Guide.