On International Women’s Day, filmmaker Alison Reid reflects on her Crave original documentary THE WOMAN WHO LOVES GIRAFFES
— March 8, 2019
By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
You can’t help but look up to giraffes. And after watching the Crave original documentary THE WOMAN WHO LOVES GIRAFFES, you’ll be looking up to Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, too.
Following a recent theatrical run and sold-out film festival screenings across Canada, THE WOMAN WHO LOVES GIRAFFES is now streaming on Crave. It also joins Crave’s Leading Women Collection which includes female-driven titles like KILLING EVE, VEEP, INSECURE, BIG LITTLE LIES, MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, THE HANDMAID’S TALE, JANE FONDA: IN FIVE ACTS, and more.
The film re-traces the trail-blazing journey of Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, who in 1956, at only 23 years old, became the first person in the world to study the behaviour of an animal in the wild. But back in Canada, the credit she deserved for her groundbreaking research was unfairly delayed for multiple decades.
We had a chat with Alison Reid, director of THE WOMAN WHO LOVES GIRAFFES, about this extraordinary film, and what went into making it:
Q: There was so much amazing footage from Anne’s trip to Africa in ‘56. And it isn’t just giraffes, it’s footage of Anne herself, walking into buildings, driving in her car. Who was shooting that stuff? And why were they doing it? What an incredible treasure trove for you to work with!Alison Reid: “I know! Fortuitously, when Anne was staying with Mr. (Alexander) Matthew, the South African rancher, he happened to have a Bolex camera, and he said, ‘Let’s use it and get footage of the giraffes.’ As time went along, they wanted to put together a film. So he also started filming her in her car, doing the work, and there’s some footage of him as well. It started out being just giraffe-oriented, and then they sort of expanded it. But they were thinking about doing a film for then, they weren’t thinking about the future. They knew that this work hadn’t been done before, and they wanted to get the word out about giraffes. But it turned out to be a real goldmine for us. And to have all her letters as well - she didn’t thrown anything out.”
Q: One of the most dramatic shots in the film is the modern-day one with the giraffe sticking its head up from some trees, and you see a giant city skyline lurking behind.Alison Reid: “That’s Nairobi in the background there. That says it all, doesn’t it? That is the biggest challenge. It takes so much land to support a giraffe, and there just isn’t the habitat to support them anymore. Elephants and rhinos have got a lot of attention about their predicaments, and rightly so. But a lot of people are still shocked to hear that giraffes are in such a bad way.”
Q: This film started out being about one thing, and then it turned out being about another thing, but that’s actually the accurate story of Anne’s life, isn’t it?Alison Reid: “There are so many elements of her story that spoke to me, it was hard to distill it down into a cohesive structure that works. I ending up saying, this is not a biography about Anne, but it’s her giraffe journey. She overcame all these obstacles to get to Africa and study these giraffes, and ironically when she got home to Canada, she was just hit with this brick wall. So the discrimination she faced in academia (the University of Guelph denied her tenure) really was part of her giraffe journey. It caused her giraffe hiatus, and it caused her to switch gears and start working for women’s rights. And then, of course, there’s the whole rediscovery, coming back into the giraffe world, and realizing that she hadn’t been forgotten.”
Q: That’s a dream scenario for all of us, to discover that our good work was being appreciated in ways we didn’t even know about. But the best-case scenario, of course, would have been for Anne to get the credit she deserved at the time.Alison Reid: “That was such a deep, deep wound for her. Anne is not one to talk about her feelings very much, but she certainly will show you her feelings. To look at her face when she’s in the presence of giraffes, or when she’s in the presence of people who are recognizing her, and saying all these kind things about her, is pretty amazing. She says this has changed her life, and I think it has.”
Q: The reaction to this film must be personally gratifying for you, too.Alison Reid: “To be able to make a film that actually is inspiring change is extremely powerful. One of the most pivotal moments was having the University of Guelph, the current Dean of Biology, say that he wanted to screen the film there. Not only did the University of Guelph issue Anne an apology, but they have made a scholarship in her name. What blows me away is that we didn’t know about her, that no one had made this film before! It almost seems so Canadian that we don’t celebrate our own the way we should.”