Last year was a great year for documentaries. In fact, the best American movie of 2015, in my estimation, was In Jackson Heights, the latest, intensely informed masterwork from the great Frederick Wiseman, a study of the variety of communities in the famed Queens neighborhood of New York City. That, like many of Wiseman’s film, was an opus dedicated to an American institution of sorts, and several of last year’s other great documentary works took similar tactics. Approaching the Elephant took a staggeringly intimate look at a small independent, alternative school for children; Field Niggas gave voice to many of the most disenfranchised denizens of Harlem; Of Men and War let us in on the lives and therapy sessions of a cadre of military veterans who can’t simply acclimate to America after being in a war zone.
There were also more entertaining but just as personal works from the likes of the late Albert Maysles (Iris), Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut), and Laurie Anderson, who made a sensational debut with the experimental Heart of a Dog. And then, finally, there was Brett Morgen‘s exceptional Montage of Heck, easily the best documentary about Kurt Cobain to be released thus far, which is saying something considering the tonnage of “non-fiction work” to be released about the Nirvana singer. Montage of Heck was informative, inventive, and personal, made up of home videos, animated asides, drawings, network TV footage, and much more. It was good enough to get Morgen quite a lot of attention and when National Geographic came to him with the chance to direct a documentary about Jane Goodall, he jumped at the opportunity to depict the life of another iconic figure.
Morgen took to Twitter today to talk about his next project and revealed quite a lot of enticing information about the promising work. First off, he confirmed that Stefan Nadelman, who did the animated segments for Montage of Heck and The Chicago 10, is returning to do some work on the Goodall documentary, which already suggests a more visually audacious film than most docs. Producer Bryan Burk of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Lost is also on board, alongside editor Joe Beshenkovsky, who also cut Montage of Heck, but the big name here is Philip Glass, who is set to score the film.
The famed composer is no stranger to making music for movies. Most recently, he co-composed the music for Fox’s bungled Fantastic Four reboot and Leviathan, one of the best and most politically furious films to come out of Russia in a long time. He’s also kept up a close relationship with documentarian Godfrey Reggio of the Qatsi trilogy and Visitors. His focus has strangely been on documentaries for the most part, which makes him a perfect, seasoned fit for Morgen’s next film. This also suggests that as personal as Montage of Heck felt, Morgen’s Goodall documentary may be even more quiet, sensitive, and ruminative about a life of obsessive dedication that brings both thrilling highs and devastating lows.