Project Nim (film)

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Project Nim
Project Nim poster.jpg
Directed byJames Marsh
Based onNim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
by Elizabeth Hess
Produced bySimon Chinn
StarringBob Angelini
Bern Cohen
Renne Falitz
Bob Ingersoll
CinematographyMichael Simmonds
Edited byJinx Godfrey
Music byDickon Hinchliffe
Distributed byRoadside Attractions (United States)[1]
Icon Entertainment International (International)
Release date
  • 20 January 2011 (2011-01-20) (Sundance)
Running time
93 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States[2]
Box office$1,583,533[1]

Project Nim is a 2011 documentary film directed by James Marsh.[3]


It focuses on Project Nim, a research project that was mounted in the 1970s to determine whether a primate raised in close contact with humans could develop a limited "language" based on American Sign Language.[4] The project was centred on a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky.[4]


The film was first publicly shown during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and then released for public exhibition on 8 July 2011.[5]


In 2019, Herbert S. Terrace, who led the research on Nim, published the book Why Chimpanzees Can’t Learn Language and Only Humans Can. There, he explained how he perceived the documentary Project Nim as "mainly an ad hominem attack" on himself. Terrace stated that the allegation that he had returned Nim to the primate colony as punishment for his failing to learn sign language is untrue. Besides, Terrace criticised how the documentary represented a "complete failure to present the scientific background of the work" done and "its theoretical significance."[6]

Reception and awards[edit]

Project Nim was released to critical acclaim. The film has received an aggregated score of 97% from 147 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rank of 8.1/10. The sites consensus reads "Equal parts hilarious, poignant, and heartbreaking, Project Nim not only tells a compelling story masterfully, but also raises the flag on the darker side of human nature".[7] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 83 out of a 100 based on 33 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[8]

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film for its "haunting life story" which according to him shows "an exquisite example of non-fiction filmmaking" that can develop into "[a] full-bodied, emotionally complex drama".[9]

Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle was of a different view, as she wrote that "there is no question Nim was exploited for human gain, yet there are important aspects which Marsh leaves unexplored".[10]

The film has won 15 and was nominated for 27 awards, including Best Documentary at the 65th British Academy Film Awards.[11]

Home media[edit]

The DVD was released on 7 February 2012 by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Project Nim (2011)". The Numbers. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  2. ^ "Project Nim". DOC NYC. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  3. ^ "Project Nim". Mubi. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  4. ^ a b Kappala-Ramsamy, Gemma (24 July 2011). "Nim Chimpsky: the chimp they tried to turn into a human". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  5. ^ Kohn, Eric (21 January 2011). "Sundance Review – Planet of the Ape: James Marsh's "Project Nim"". IndieWire. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  6. ^ Terrace, Herbert S. (2019). Why Chimpanzees Can't Learn Language and Only Humans Can. Columbia University Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-231-55001-7.
  7. ^ "Project Nim (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  8. ^ "Project Nim (2011)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  9. ^ Rooney, David (21 January 2011). "Project Nim: Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  10. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie (9 December 2011). "Project Nim". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2012: Winners". BBC News. 12 February 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2021.Bafta Film Awards 2012: Winners - BBC News
  12. ^ Tønnessen, Morten; Armstrong Oma, Kristin; Rattasepp, Silver (2016). Thinking about Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 230.

External links[edit]