‘Project Nim’ follows the life of Nim Chimpsky, a famous chimp of the ’70s who goes through an extremely traumatic life. Chimpsky’s story starts out in Oklahoma in 1973 and follows a life filled with one heartbreak after another.
His life begins in a cage and shortly after he is ripped from his chimp mother’s arms and placed into the waiting arms of a surrogate mother, a young psychology student at Columbia University, for behavioral testing to see if a chimp can learn to communicate with language if raised like a human child. Nim succeeded in learning how to communicate with sign language.
But Chimpsky’s life doesn’t stop there. He is traded from one family to another, sent to a lab for medical research testing, and then sold to an animal rights activist who brings him home to a lonely animal sanctuary where there are no other chimps and no one to speak to him with sign language.
According to the LA Times, the scientist in charge of ‘Project Nim’, Herbert Terrace, has been feuding with James Marsh, director of the film, for exposing him and the science behind the project in a negative light.
Terrace said of the feud, “I’m upset because the film creates the impression the project was a failure because it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped it would when I started…The only line between success and failure for scientists is really whether they honestly report their results, and I did that.”
Marsh claimed there was no agenda to portray Terrace in a negative light. He told the LA Times, “It is a compression of 26 years of a sentient creature’s life into an hour and a half, and that is done essentially by me as the author of the film. There is no agenda.”
The documentary was released at the Sundance Film Festival where it received rave reviews. ‘Project Nim’ has been released in select theaters across the U.S. this month and will be in theaters in the UK in August.