2013 | USA | Documentary,Fiction,Experimental

Primate Cinema: Apes as Family

  • 11 mins
  • Director | Rachel Mayeri
  • Writer | Rachel Mayeri
  • Producer | Matt Johnstone, Steve Pallrand, Gillean Dickie

This film is currently not available.   

Primate Cinema: Apes as Family  is a drama made expressly for chimpanzees – and the chimps' reaction to its screening at the Edinburgh Zoo. Chimpanzees watch television as a form of enrichment in captivity. But no filmmaker had made a film for a specifically ape audience. Commissioned by Arts Catalyst, and supported with an art-science grant from the Wellcome Trust, the director, in consultation with primatologists, researched chimpanzees' reactions to a variety of television genres – Teletubbies, wildlife films, human actors playing chimp behavior, kettle drums, chimpanzee display behavior. Chimps seem to like to watch the same things as human primates – dramas around food, territory, social status, and sex. In Apes as Family, the protagonist is a young female chimp, played by a human in an animatronic costume, whose facial expressions are controlled by puppeteers. The young female, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, encounters strange males on an adventure, which eventually leads back "home."  The drama is intercut with the chimps’ responses to the film, when it premiered at the zoo. Chimps' were attentive to the film; some sat and watched, others attempted to touch or smell the characters, and other appeared to mimic the action on screen. The project was intended to create a prism for human beings to think about the inner world of chimpanzees. By watching a movie through chimps’ eyes, we can imagine what they think and feel. Chimps are, after all, our closest relatives. Known for their complex social, cognitive and emotional lives, they also share with us a fascination with cinema.

Commissioned by Arts Catalyst with support from The Wellcome Trust

Rachel Mayeri, Director and Writer | Matt Johnstone, Producer | PJ Raval, Director of Photography | Augie Robles, Editor | Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick, Consulting Primatologist


Denise Pearlman, Lead Female Chimp, Dave Nelson, Puppeteer, Norman Tempia, Puppeteer, J.C. Lee, Lead Male Chimp, Song Man Choh, Male Chimp, Heather Sultz, Female Chimp, Dawn Meyer, Female Chimp, Lex Quarterman, Juvenile Male, Angelina Prendergast, Female Chimp

experiment chimpanzee film primate social behavior film television captivity lab