Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

Gone from Boston, I'm afraid, as this was a last-chance special, where I show up at Kendall Square on the last day, it's in theater 9, and just well-enough attended that I ponder the question of whether they should have kept it around another few days or whether this many people showed up because they knew it would only be around seven days. But it's only a month or so away from being available on disc and presumably the streaming service of one's choice.

Afterward, I wondered about recommending it to my nieces and friends with young girls that like science. Part of why I want to recommend it is that it's not entirely sanitized - there are some dead and dismembered giraffes, but director Alison Reid is aware of how this is awful but also useful to a scientist, and how sometimes you have to wrestle with that. The full review mentions a bit where Anne Dagg is conversing with another scientist whose arm is up a pregnant giraffe's uterus to give it a sonogram, but I kind of think that's a great test - if a kid is fascinated by the icky thing, they're who this movie was made for.

Still, it's tough for me to wholeheartedly recommend things for young girls when a big part of the story is "so, this great role model just got completely crapped on for most of her life because she was a woman". I've got no idea how you get kids to extract the positive from something like that. I think Reid does a pretty great job of focusing on how Dagg became admired despite that, but it's obviously major privilege that I don't have to worry about it much myself.

One last fun thing, going over Reid's IMDB entry - she's got a twenty-odd-year career as a stuntperson and stunt co-ordinator, so it's a pretty cool shift to wind up making this documentary. Broad interests, apparently!

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2020 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is the sort of movie that would have me smiling hugely from end to end if it weren't for friggin people, denying Anne Innis Dagg tenure because she's a woman, curtailing her field studies, and driving the reticulated giraffe toward extinction. It's still a genuine delight for much of its time on screen, one that happily translates fondness for its subjects into something the audience will share, but it's still got plentiful moments when one wants humanity to do better.

The woman of the title is Anne Innis Dagg, who was amazed by her first sight of a giraffe when taken to Chicago's Broadfield Zoo at the age of three and never lost that interest through school, eventually going to South Africa to study the animals in the wild in 1956. This was a bigger deal than it may sound; not only was scientific study of wild animals in situ a new field (she actually arrived in Africa years before Goodall and Fossey), but most of the places where she set up shop would dismiss her out of hand upon hearing she was a woman - rancher Alexander Matthew initially assumed "A. Innis" was a man before allowing her to use his Fleur-de-Lys plantation as her base of operations. He would eventually grow to respect her dedication, and the observations she made over those months would form the basis of a book that, decades later, was still the pre-eminent reference in the field.

And yet, this groundbreaking work would not get her tenure at the universities where she taught in the 1960s, and she would spend much of the 1970s fighting to have this sexism recognized as discrimination in front of various Canadian courts and academic organizations. Reid dedicates a significant amount of time in the film's second half to this, and handles it in conscientious fashion: This is a major part of Dagg's story, and it would be easy to spend more time on it, since it involves human conflict and things the audience can directly relate to, but Reid is careful not to let it overwhelm the more upbeat facets of the film. There's vindication as she is rediscovered and honored by those she has inspired, and pangs as one wonders just what she could have done had her career not been sidelined, but Reid opts to make what Dagg achieved the focus of her film, rather than how men stymied her.

Full review on EFilmCritic

No comments: