Show + Tell: The Woman Who Loves Giraffes


Rain and snow today? Forget it, Jake—it’s November. A couple of days this week with overnight lows in the teens? You can’t handle the cold! But you can always come back to The Music Hall, because tomorrow is another day!

Okay, now that I have that out of my system, here’s an invitation to come to The Music Hall Loft on Tuesday for a discussion of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, the story of Anne Innis Dagg, the true pioneer in the scientific study of the world’s favorite long-necked animal.

Dagg was a trailblazer in more ways than one, going to Africa for immersive field work long before mountain gorillas or chimpanzees got that treatment from other courageous women. And her research is still regarded as definitive for any scientific study of giraffes.

But the real story of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is the story of Dagg’s battle against academic scientists and their fear of letting a woman into the club. Despite a brilliant record of publication, she was denied tenure in her native Canada and left the field completely. That battle (and the inevitable decline in giraffe populations and habitat) is the dark side of the story.

But the bright side is that history sometimes corrects its mistakes and that has happened to Anne Innis Dagg. After decades of being out of academia (and 57 years after her last trip to Africa), she has been welcomed back into the giraffe club at age 85 and is enjoying a late season in the sun and honor for her work.

I don’t worry that I’m giving too much away in this summary. From what I’ve read, the rediscovered 16mm footage of Dagg’s early research journeys and the letters that she wrote to colleagues, friends ,and family, tell her story in a moving and authentic way. As always with successful documentaries, there is a kind of inspired luck that blesses a few directors with exactly what they need—an appealing subject, a great theme, and unexpected resources—to make a story come alive. And that’s what has happened with The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.

I hope to see you there. No, really, I hope you can make it despite the weather. The Music Hall is heading into the Holiday Season, which means a ton of rentals, special shows, and other non-movie stuff. And since that’s a major factor in keeping the lights on at our favorite movie venue, I don’t begrudge the scarcity of movies in the mix.

One quick word on Film Club’s next movie. Ninotchka, the fifth installment in the current 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year series, is one of my favorite films of all time. Everyone knew that Ernst Lubitsch could make entertaining, suggestive movies, but I doubt that anyone expected what happened when he teamed up with Greta Garbo and screenwriter Billy Wilder to create one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Garbo proved herself a true comedian, the story is irresistible and host Jeannie MacDonald will deliver a wealth of background and perspective.

Paul Goodwin