Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Chimpanzee" (Disney Nature) tells a story about tribalism and "social capital"

Disney Nature, with British nature filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, have put together a touching nature drama in “Chimpanzee”.  During the end credits, the relatively brief (78 min) film shows us how they filmed, with gear strung from jungle trees.  The credits tell us that the film was shot in the Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Gabon; so it’s not clear that all the footage, from which the storyline grows, is with the same tribes of chimps.  But the movie certain documents the eusociality of humans’ closest genetic relative.
The “plot” concerns two competing tribes of chimps, one run by alpha male Freddie, another by Scarface.  The latter tribe is more aggressive and wants the food sources (a nut grove) in Freddie’s territory.  But, in turnabout, sometimes Freddie’s tribe raids the fig and “cherry” trees near the edge of Scarface’s territory.
In the meantime, a mother, Iglesia, is raising her young Oscar.  Apparently in chimp society males don’t stay “married” in family units.  She is killed accidentally in one of Scarface’s raids.  Oscar, an orphan, looks desperately for her and is having trouble surviving. He cannot do the things a chimp does to make food edible in the wild.  He visits all the other moms in the tribe (of 35), and none of them will “adopt” him. They have their own kids to raise.

The movie tells us a lot about the way chimps use tools, and recognize that harder objects, like rocks, are better at smashing nuts than softer wood stumps.  They also make teriyaki sticks with ants.  The film shows them as having considerable problem solving skills (somewhat contradicting the opening of yesterday’s film “Surviving Progress”).  Why don’t they advance technology from one generation to the next? Is the social structure a factor?

It seems that alpha male Freddie, who may have fathered a lot of the kids, doesn’t have much domestic responsibility.  But when Oscar approaches Freddie, he accepts the interpersonal challenge.  Life between parent and child (even father) in chimp society is very intimate. 

Then the question is, how does this affect Freddie’s ability to lead his clan in “military” defense of the tribe from Scarface’s minions?

No doubt, the movie sheds a lot of light on human “social capital”.  The individual chimps seem like people, not animals.  But other sources report that chimpanzees actually hunt for and eat monkeys.  We would regard that as cannibalism. 

The link for the film is here.

The film is shot in standard 1.85:1 aspect.  Wider may have been difficult to film under the circumstances.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of chimps in the wild 

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