A great film about a very special ape who taught us to be more human

Nim shared 98.7 percent of his DNA with the humans around him. It was enough to make those humans think he could master the rudiments of sign language. But Nim was a chimpanzee—he was very strong, and not quite tame—and the older he got, the more dangerous he became. His story, which didn’t end well, took some interesting turns along the way, and left us with a question: Did Nim ever learn how to communicate with human beings?

Now Nim’s become the subject of a documentary by James Marsh—who is best known as the director of Man on Wire and The Red Riding Trilogy. Marsh interviewed many of the people who knew and worked with Nim, mined a wealth of archival footage, and emerged with a gripping, totally unorthodox biography of this singular animal (who died of a heart attack 11 years ago, at the age of 26). The film—a big hit at the 2011 Sundance Festival, and the best documentary we’re likely to see this summer—opens July 8.

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