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Living with Chimpanzees:
Portrait of a Family

Running time: 53 min. 1996
Produced and Directed by Flavia Fontes

 
AWARDS
Communicator Award for Excellence in Documentary 1995

SYNOPSIS AND DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT

Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. They are also known to be intensely social creatures capable of close and enduring attachments. Most often they have been observed in the wild and in laboratories. What would happen if chimpanzees and humans were members of the same family?

This is a story of an unusual nuclear family, Roberta and Phil and the two chimpanzees they have adopted, Charlie and his half sister Casey. It shows the joys and challenges of life with our closest primate relatives. It investigates their adaptive abilities when removed from their natural habitat, their amazing mental capabilities, and the bonding love that exists between chimpanzees and humans when they share such intimate space.

We see how chimps adapt to domestic life and even become like surrogate children. Sociable and affectionate, they watch television, play ball games and take walks in the woods with their human caretakers. The living room is their playground with ropes and swings hanging from the ceiling. Yet, they are unpredictable and their strength makes them capable of inflicting harm.

The filmmaker lived with this unusual family on and off for three years to capture these spontaneous and revealing moments. She observes Charlie learning to use keys, painting pictures, and throwing kisses at a friendly voice on the telephone. The intimate, affectionate interaction of man and chimp in day to day life will intrigue animal behaviorists as well as general audiences.


OFFICIAL SELECTION
Parnu (Estonia) Int'l Visual Anthropology Competition 1996
Animal Behavior Film Festival, Penn State University 1996
Directors Citation, Black Maria Film Festival 1997
New Documentaries series, MOMA, 1997