After spending many weeks in the edit suite, I just finished watching the completed, fine-tuned version of Safe Haven for Chimps. Mixed feelings, for sure. I have a deep sense of satisfaction that comes with having worked hard, and making it to the end. Over the course of weaving all the parts together, I feel like I’ve had an entire education about chimpanzees, though I’m well aware that what I’ve learned is only a fraction of what there is to know about these complex beings. It was a challenging project for many reasons, but still, I know that the story of chimpanzees being retired from biomedical research is worth telling.
I’ve been humbled by the chimps at Chimp Haven sanctuary who are a special group indeed. Most of them have come from research labs where they undoubtedly felt fear, pain, and loneliness. But as I’ve been told by the people who are devoted to their betterment, chimpanzees are forgiving animals. So, when I think of them living out their days at the sanctuary, I imagine them accepting their new life as part of a chimpanzee family, learning to trust other chimps and humans, and living as close to the life of a wild chimp as they will ever live. I hope more lab chimps will soon be moving to sanctuaries like Chimp Haven, but I know that the process will take time.
If you do watch Safe Haven for Chimps, think about the narrative of chimpanzees’ lives. Just like ours, their lives have beginnings, middles and ends. When you think of key moments in your life -- the birth of a child or the death of a loved one -- realize they could have happened for a chimp too, wild or captive, and held just as much meaning.
Along with all of the feelings I have about Safe Haven for Chimps, there is another story to tell that for me, is bittersweet. My directorial first is also one of the last programs coming from the talented and hard working in-house team at The Nature of Things, part of the documentary unit. Everyone who works here had a hand in it, from the budgeting to the sound mix, to the carefully chosen words and images. It’s a true collaboration. The unit will close down in a few weeks, and the people who have worked here -- some for 30 years or more -- will scatter. But the series will go on, produced by excellent independent filmmakers, giving science and nature a much needed voice in prime time television, and online, where the audience continues to grow. I know, too, that that those of us leaving here will find dynamic ways to contribute to the give and take of ideas. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier.
Watch the film Thursday March 12 at 8 pm.