Release of “Chimpanzee” in Germany

11 May 2013 by Kerstin Hoppenhaus, posted in Primatology

This week, the film „Chimpanzee“ has been released in Germany. It was produced by Disney Nature, and Christophe Boesch and several other Max Planck scientists were involved in the filming. The film caused a bit of excitement in the German media when it became known that its main character, a young chimp named Oscar, had in fact been „played“ by several different chimps and that the touching story of his adoption by the leading male Freddy has been constructed for the film. Most of the stir was in German, of course, but some is reflected here (see comments, too).

As a filmmaker, the fact that a nature film is not filmed chronologically and with different animal-„actors“ in different locations hardly comes as a surprise. Everybody who ever tried to film their cat will know what I mean. And while I do agree that Disney’s marketing oversells the „true story“-part, I can still accept that the observations in the film are scientifically accurate.

In all this, I had my own little lesson in the different approaches of print and audio-visual media, in this case to the documentary format of the interview. For I, too, as a freelancer, conducted an interview with Christophe Boesch about the film, which appeared in Die Zeit (print edition) on May 8. What I learnt was this:
While in film it may happen that through editing we take the words out of context or even distort them, at least they are what the person actually said. In print, in Germany at least, interviews tend to be edited to an extent where very little remains of the original words, and they are then authorized by the interviewee before publication. Ideally, both procedures, print and film, leave the content of the interview intact. Both are still considered valid documentary forms. But strictly speaking both are attempting to tell the truth by not sticking to it too closely.

"Chimpanzee" certainly takes a much wider interpretation of "documentary". But if you like nature films, you'll probably still enjoy it. Just remember: while it may be „true“, it is also a „story“.

More about the film is here (Disney's site, in English) and here (Max Planck Society's site, in German).
And over at, Günther Willinger has a good piece about the institute's chimpanzee research and the various threats to chimp populations in the wild (in German).


Full disclosure (for those who do not follow "I, EVA" regularly):
I am currently staying at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology as an "embedded" science reporter.

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