Richard Reens filming on a rooftop at sunset with the chimps
When Barbara and Lewis Hollweg asked me to direct a movie about Stany Nyandwi, a man who talks to chimpanzees, I was immediately intrigued and admittedly a bit skeptical, but his story grabbed me and I was in.
Stany’s and the chimps’ stories are so epic that it moved me to shoot the film in an epic style versus traditional documentary. The combined tragedies of the film’s subjects’ life stories dictated my shooting style: Stany having survived genocide, the sanctuary chimps having been rescued from unimaginable cruelty, and chimpanzees in the wild facing extinction.
The film was shot framing in widescreen aspect ratio: long lenses fostering an intimacy with the subjects and compression creating a feeling of claustrophobia, with no sky in the frame. Only at the end, we get wide and see the sky, which provides a feeling of hope because there is still time to change the fate of the chimps in the wild. But, as Jane Goodall wrote, “only if we understand”…
We spent five days shooting the chimps at Chimp Eden sanctuary in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, South Africa. I will never forget the most memorable moments we experienced: seated on a fallen tree trunk, the chimps gathered daily to watch the sun go down.
More than once in the middle of the night (around 3AM) I was awakened by very loud pant-hooting. I imagined that one of the chimps woke from a nightmare, and the other chimps were telling him they were with him and all was ok. Although it woke me, I felt a deep connection to them.
After we left South Africa the next important part of making the film was interviewing Jane Goodall, catching up with her in Ottawa, Canada. I was so stricken by the power of her message and warnings that I teared up multiple times. It was such an honor to meet her. In addition, I was honored to work with everyone involved, including the most precious of our subjects, the chimps.
For everyone who will watch this film, I want them to experience the emotional ride that we were all present for, with a combination of heartbreak, humor and wonder, while simultaneously falling in love with Stany and chimpanzees, because that’s what I experienced making the film PANT HOOT.