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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Project Nim'

July 28, 2011 |  5:26 pm

Project Nim

You always know you're in for something as special as it is substantial when documentary filmmaker James Marsh slips into the director's chair. His 2008 “Man on Wire” on Philippe Petit's daredevil, and illegal, tightrope walk between New York's twin towers back in 1974 was spine-tingling stuff and won him an Oscar.

This summer there is “Project Nim,” another '70s-era oddity. It’s the story of Nim, a baby chimp raised in a brownstone in Manhattan's Upper West Side like a human, by a human family. The intent at the time was to study behavior and language. The result was tragedy and travesty, and in Marsh’s hands, it has become an immersive story of scientific hubris that says far more about the human condition than merely what happened to Nim.

The documentary has been met with a wave of critical acclaim, but audiences have been slow to warm to it. Prehaps it’s the fear of tears, and it is indeed a film laced with more than a few regrets. But Marsh's portrait of the human beast proves so riveting and what the film has to say about the price of scientific progress so telling, that “Project Nim” should not be missed. (At Laemmle Monica through Sunday).


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— Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Researcher Laura-Ann Petitto teaches Nim sign language in "Project Nim." Credit: Susan Kuklin / Roadside Attractions.

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