HBO's highly anticipated documentary, PROJECT NIM debuting THURSDAY,
DECEMBER 20th (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT).
From the Oscar-winning team behind
"Man on Wire," PROJECT NIM tells the story of the chimpanzee who was the
focus of a landmark experiment to show that an ape could learn to
communicate with language.
Based on the book "Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who
Would Be Human," and winner of the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award
at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, PROJECT NIM tells the unflinching
biography of an animal that science tried to make human.
For Immediate Release
Dec. 4, 2012
SUNDANCE-WINNING DOCUMENTARY PROJECT NIM,
FOLLOWING ONE CHIMP'S EXTRAORDINARY AND REVEALING JOURNEY, DEBUTS
DEC. 20, EXCLUSIVELY ON HBO
Raised like a child, studied as an experiment and returned to
captivity when his animal instincts surfaced, Nim Chimpsky lived a
life that was as exceptional as it was heart-wrenching.
From the Oscar�-winning team behind "Man on Wire," PROJECT NIM tells
the story of the chimpanzee who was the focus of a landmark
experiment to show that an ape could learn to communicate with
language if raised and nurtured like a human child. Combining recent
testimony from key participants with dramatic imagery and newly
discovered archival film from the 1970s, the feature documentary
follows Nim's extraordinary journey through human society,
chronicling his enduring impact on the people he meets.
Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2011
Sundance Film Festival, PROJECT NIM debuts THURSDAY, DEC. 20
(9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: Dec. 24 (4:30 p.m.) and 28 (2:45 p.m.), and
Jan. 1 (11:55 p.m.), 6 (12:30 p.m.), 9 (10:30 a.m.) and 14 (3:45
HBO2 playdates: Jan. 2 (8:00 p.m.). 22 (1:00 p.m.) and 28 (12:45
p.m., 12:35 a.m.)
Based on the book "Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human," by
Elizabeth Hess, PROJECT NIM is an unflinching and unsentimental
biography of an animal that science tried to make human. What it
reveals about his true nature -- and humanity's -- is comic, revealing
and profoundly unsettling.
In 1973, at the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma, a baby
chimp is born. A few days later, his mother is knocked down by a
tranquilizer, and her screaming baby seized and placed into the arms
of a new human "mother." Thus begins Project Nim, a
university-funded experiment to show that a chimpanzee can learn to
communicate with language if raised like a human. Under the auspices
of Columbia psychology professor Herb Terrace, the chimp, Nim, is
brought to NYC to live with Stephanie LaFarge, one of Terrace's
Though LaFarge knows next to nothing about chimps, her bond with Nim
is immediate, but the collateral damage on her home and family
eventually becomes a problem. Displeased with Nim's unstructured
upbringing, Terrace enlists psychology student Laura Petitto to
ferry Nim back and forth to a Columbia classroom and teach him sign
language. Eventually, he moves Nim and Petitto to the Delafield
Estate, a Riverdale mansion owned by Columbia. As Nim learns to
communicate using dozens of signs, the media latches on to Nim's
story, resulting in a cover piece in New York magazine.
As time passes, Nim grows stronger and his animal nature emerges.
Though affectionate and playful, he also becomes aggressive and
unpredictable. Having been bitten once too often by Nim and after
briefly becoming romantically involved with Terrace, Petitto leaves
Delafield, ceding control of Nim to Bill Tynan and Joyce Butler, who
counters a Nim attack with a warning bite of her own. Renee Falitz,
trained as an interpreter for the deaf, also works with Nim, but
leaves after Nim savagely bites her in the face.
Explaining, "Nobody keeps chimps more than five years," Terrace
decides to end the experiment, and returns a tranquilized Nim to the
Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma, where the disoriented
animal encounters other chimps for the first time since birth.
Although the other chimps don't understand sign language, Nim
eventually adjusts to living with them under the supervision of IPS
staffers Bob Ingersoll and Alyce Moore. When the center runs out of
funds a few years later, Nim and other chimps are sold to LEMSIP, an
NYU research facility, where they are subjected to a series of lab
experiments while living in small cages. Though he later condemns
such research as inhumane, Dr. James Mahony supervises these
experiments, drawing the ire of Ingersoll and other Nim caregivers.
News of Nim's predicament inspires a movement to free him. After
lawyer Henry Herrmann suggests that Nim be given a day in court to
testify on his own behalf using sign language, NYU sells the chimp
to Cleveland Amory, an animal-rights activist who runs Black Beauty
Ranch, a Texas sanctuary for abused, mostly hooved, animals. But
with no chimps or human friends, Nim is isolated and lonely; he
smashes a TV and accidentally kills a poodle in a fit of rage. When
Stephanie LaFarge, his first human mother, reunites with Nim after
almost 20 years, Nim immediately recognizes her and attacks when she
unwisely enters his cage. Though shaken by the experience, LaFarge
is relieved and grateful when Nim spares her life.
When LEMSIP closes in 1995, Mahony moves a number of the facility's
chimps to more humane locations. Two of them, Mitch and Lulu, join
Nim at Black Beauty, and his life and attitude improve. With old
friend Bob Ingersoll often dropping by for visits, Nim lives for
five more years before dying of a heart attack in May 2000.
For more on the film, please visit facebook.com/HBODocs and
twitter.com @HBODocs #ProjectNim.
PROJECT NIM is directed by James Marsh; produced by Simon Chinn;
editor, Jinx Godfrey; executive producers, John Battsek, Andrew
Ruhemann, Jamie Laurenson, Nick Fraser and Hugo Grumbar; director of
photography, Michael Simmonds; original music by Dickon Hinchliffe.
For HBO Documentary Films: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive
producer, Sheila Nevins.