Chasing chimpanzees up to 15 miles per day through a dense African forest, fighting thick vines and torrential rain, and donning a face mask and big rubber boots, are perhaps not part of a typical filmmaking experience.
But directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield ("Earth") did all of that to create "Chimpanzee," a new Disneynature true-life film focused on a young chimp left to fend for itself in the Taï Forest of Africa’s Ivory Coast.
The crew faced a rainy season, dim lighting and long-distance running chimps. "Luckily, our cameramen are really, really fit," Linfield told HuffPost. "Sometimes Alastair and I were lagging behind, but the camera guys were right up there."
Trampling through a rainforest with high-tech equipment could raise environmental concerns, but the filmmakers said they made every effort to be sensitive to their environment and the animals.
They traveled with a research team that advised them; Fothergill told HuffPost that the crew always maintained a distance of 7 meters, avoided eye contact with the chimps and wore face masks.
"Because chimps are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, they are susceptible to catching diseases from us. We had to wear face masks so they didn't catch influenza or any plain bugs that we might have picked up, because that could kill them," Linfield explained.
He chuckled. "If we went to the toilet we had to do it in a bag and bring it back to the camp with us."
To distinguish themselves from the poachers, the filmmaking team wore beige-green shirts and jungle trousers, the same uniform as researchers, which the chimps have learned to recognize. The team also learned to make specific sounds, which they would not reveal; the chimps recognized the sounds and knew they were with the researchers. "A poacher who turns up not wearing the gear, not making the noise, (the chimps) know to run," Linfield explained.
According to Linfield, beyond poachers, a major threat facing chimps is deforestation. Estimates suggest the Ivory Coast has lost up to 90 percent of its forests.
Chimp expert Jane Goodall previously told HuffPost, "If you're going to save chimps, you must save forests." Chimps need help "desperately," she said, since rough estimates suggest the endangered animal's total population is less than 300,000 in the wild.
Fothergill pointed to the Jane Goodall Institute as a group working to help chimpanzees threatened in other African regions. A portion of the first week's ticket sales from "Chimpanzee" will benefit the nonprofit.
Fothergill and Linfield said they hope audiences leave the theater with a heightened awareness of chimpanzees. The chimps "become your friends ... I have very happy memories of just sitting on the jungle floor besides sleeping chimpanzees who are in total trust with us," said Fothergill.
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