On a cold, blustery morning in the midst of the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this summer, HeyUGuys had a chance to sit down with Bob Ingersoll, a primate specialist involved in the life of Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee at the heart of James Marsh’s extraordinary new documentary Project Nim.
During the brief interview, we talked about the overwhelming response the films received, Bob’s thoughts on revisiting old footage and his overall attitudes towards Herb Terrace’s revolutionary, and often controversial, experiment.
HeyUGuys: Are you pleased with the response Project Nim’s been receiving?
Sure, I mean for me it’s hard not to be pleased. But more importantly, calling me a hero and stuff, and I don’t consider me that. Nim’s the real hero, then comes James [Mahoney] and, of course, Joyce [Butler] was there whenever she had the opportunity to see Nim. But yeah, I’m really pleased that people are now going to interface with Nim on a personal level.
Definitely. I mean, one minute you can be laughing and the next crying, so it takes you to different levels and truly makes you emote with the material.
Well, that’s the skill of those guys as filmmakers. A truly great film makes you feel, and that film makes you feel. I mean, the reason why you love films so much is because they make you feel. I’m hoping that this film will be somewhat of a tipping point in the sense that the public will be able to feel differently for animals.
What was it like to look back onto the footage and see the project and what you did for Nim in a more objective way?
Obviously, I’d looked at that footage over and over again. I’d never seen Stephanie’s footage, or the early stuff. That stuff really amazed me. I loved seeing him when he was that young, running around with those boys and that dog, that was beautiful. I mean, you could see they were having a great time, just like I did. It’s a warm feeling you get when you see him happy – and it was obvious that he was happy.
Do you have any feelings towards how the project started: Herb’s initial outcome and Stephanie LaFarge’s involvement?
Yeah, I don’t think that there was a real lot of planning. That sort of thing bothers me now, because obviously that was a significant factor in how it all worked out and whether it was going to be successful or not.
I don’t really have any animosity towards Stephanie. I think I’ve met all the kids now and hung out with Stephanie quite a lot. I hadn’t met Stephanie before Sundance, so she wasn’t really somebody that I had ever interfaced with on any level. Of course, I had my reservations, because everything I’d ever heard about those people was questionable. I have no animosity towards any of those people. I’m also a lot older, so a lot of water has gone under the bridge.
The feeling that you get from the film is that she [Stephanie] had nothing but good intentions.
Exactly, and there is no question about that. Her children, those young boys that you see, loved Nim with all their heart, there was no question about it. Nim had a good as time as he did in his life with them. I mean, it was the same kind of time he had with me, whether it be letting him run around on his own or enabling him to make his own decisions, that’s a beautiful thing. It’s unfortunate that the science, or at least what those guys thought was science, got in the same.
Are you still working with chimps?
Yeah, actually I consult with a bunch of chimp people and keep in contact with the chimps that I knew. As a matter of fact, I’m going to another film festival in Los Angeles next weekend, and while I’m there James and I are going to do a Q & A, and then we’re going to visit some of those chimps that he moved. I also run a monkey sanctuary in Oklahoma because monkeys are the least served of all non-human primates, especially the micaques, which are the ones used in laboratories the most.
I’m hoping that the scientific community eventually starts to treat sanctuaries and people like me with a little more respect and brings them into the academic world. That tipping point might be now.
Project Nim is released nationwide today.