Project Nim
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Project Nim

James Marsh (USA/UK, Special Presentations)

Thursday, May 5, 9:45 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
Friday, May 6, 11 a.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)

Nim Chimpsky was a chimpanzee, born in captivity, who became the subject of an extended study conducted by Columbia University behavioural psychologist Herbert S. Terrace. Taken from his mother at birth, Nim was placed in the care of various families and raised as if he were human, in order to find concrete proof that chimpanzees could coherently learn and use American Sign Language.
After being spirited away from his first home, a New York City brownstone, Terrace removed Nim to a mansion on the outskirts of the city, where a team of research assistants, linguists, and babysitters cared for the superstar chimp. But as Nim got bigger and became more unruly, and the research lost funding, Nim was forced back into captivity and eventually became the subject of animal testing.
There’s plenty of opportunity for treacly animal rights weepiness in Project Nim, but Marsh (Man on Wire, Wisconsin Death Trip) deftly evades it. As the argument begins to emerge that socializing chimpanzees only makes their inevitable return to imprisonment more inhumane, the film’s early images of a cute chimp wearing a wool sweater recede, leaving us with the image of a suffering animal strapped to a gurney, prodded with hypodermic needles. Slickly presented and featuring an eccentric batch of interviewees (Nim’s Deadhead caretaker Bob proves especially memorable), Project Nim is a sweet, funny, and ultimately harrowing vision of what it means to be a sentient primate.