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‘Chimpanzee’ Filmmaker Mark Linfield Interview

Aug 15, 2012

The new heartwarming Disney Nature documentary Chimpanzee follows the real-life struggles of Oscar, a chimp living in the forest of The Ivory Coast. Chimpanzee is set hit stores on Blu-Ray August 21st, and co-director Mark Linfield had time to chat with Kidzworld about his amazing experience in filming in the wild.

KW: What made you want to make Chimpanzee?

  • Mark: I guess the first thing is chimpanzees! They are wonderful animals and Alistair Forthgill, my co-director, and I have always been interested in them and used to film them many years ago, on fact for most of my career I’ve been filming monkeys and apes. Chimpanzees are really difficult to film and we felt that no one had done a really great film about them - one of the reasons is that the technology to film in low light in thick forests was really only up to it in the last 5 years or so, so the timing was right. And of course Disney came up with the Disney Nature strand and came to us asking if there were any subjects that would work on the big screen and we said ‘hell yes!’ – chimpanzees are so like us it would be like a human drama. In 2008 we went out on a reconnaissance mission to make sure it was a good idea and after a few days we were convinced.

KW: How did you discover Oscar, the chimp you followed?

  • Mark: We’d planned to follow a particular female chimpanzee named Sumatra and it turned out she was camera shy and we thought she would come around, but it wasn’t that at all, just like people some chimpanzees like to go on camera and some don’t. So we had to stop following her so it turned out to be Oscar.

KW: Do you think chimpanzees have different personalities?

  • Mark:  I absolutely do, they %100 have different personalities just like we do and it’s so clear when you’re there. For example when we went on the reconnaissance trip we walked into the chimpanzee research camp and they were all talking about chimpanzees as if they were talking about a soap opera, like “did you see that” or “I never though they’d accept that,” and of course when I first got there I thought “oh god they’ve been in the forest too long, they’re going a bit mad” but after a couple of weeks you find yourself talking about them the same way. They behave the way we behave in certain situations.

KW: Following a chimpanzee can’t be easy, what was the trickiest part of filming?

  • Mark: One is that the forest is very dark and very thick so it can be hard to see the chimpanzees a lot of the time because they travel very quickly and are designed for moving through the forest, following them can be a nightmare. The other thing that’s hard is we filmed over 3 years so it was hard to keep morale up, it could be days and days where we would barely get a shot. I have to take my hat off to the camera men, they have amazing stamina to get up every day and think today might be the day you get something special.

KW: What do you think is the most interesting thing you learned about chimps during filming?

  • Mark: They live to about 40 or 50 years old, so as old as we would if we were propped up by nutrition. That sort of surprised me, I didn’t realise they had almost the same life span as us. Some of the tools they use, they use sponges made from leaves and put them in holes of trees full of water and wrung it into their mouths and sticks to dig grubs out of holes. Lots of things they do very quickly so it was hard to catch, but there are tons of little things they do that are just so smart.

KW: What are you hoping people take away from this film?

  • Mark:  I’m hoping that they take away the notion that chimpanzees are really special animals that are like us in the way that they think and they feel. And out of that there will be a sense of indignation at the way they are being wiped out. We knew the best thing we could do for chimpanzee conservation is to show what amazing animals they are.

KW: What scene in the movie is most special to you?

  • Mark: It’s really hard not to give an obvious answer to that, the adoption of Oscar of course, we never could have expected that. There’s another scene with Freddy grooming Oscar, gently touching his face and it’s so tender even though he’s the alpha male in charge of the whole group. I think it’s magical.

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