What’s not to love about a passionate, confident Canadian scholar who fought her way to Africa in the 1950s to study the animals she’d loved since she was a toddler? As chronicled in Alison Reid’s engaging documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, the story of Dr. Anne Innis Dagg is full of warmth, intelligence, and — above all — spunk.
Because make no mistake: It takes a lot of spunk to do what Dagg did. No one, man or woman, had studied giraffes in their native habitat before she talked her way into spending a year in South Africa, observing the majestic animals and ultimately producing the definitive text on their habits and behavior (titled, appropriately, “The Giraffe”). And few academics stood up for women’s rights as firmly as she did after she was denied tenure at the University of Guelph in the early 1970s, largely — she firmly believed — due to her gender.
Reid expertly intertwines excellent archival film (some of it captured by Dagg herself in the ’50s) with footage from decades later, during Dagg’s emotional first visit back to Africa since her initial time in the bush. Reid sets up present-day shots that intentionally echo scenes of Dagg’s initial visit to Africa, and the parallels are moving. Cutting from a young, eager college graduate who made up the science of giraffe observation as she went to a veteran academic who has earned many accolades but was kept from returning to the place she loved so much for so long is extremely poignant.
Dagg’s joy at finally getting to return to Africa will have audiences rejoicing right alongside her, since her earnest demeanor, confidence in her abilities and expertise (despite her demoralizing experience in academia), and ready smile make her such an appealing subject. Her frankness and relatability may not be as remarkable as her scientific achievements, but they certainly help turn her story into one that you can’t help but enjoy. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Sheila Roberts The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is an intimate, emotional, and thought-provoking portrait of a trailblazing woman who passionately pursued her dreams. Despite the roadblocks Dagg encountered which ended her academic career and closed off an especially happy part of her life, she never gave up and used those experiences to shape her future endeavors. At 86, she remains relevant in her field and is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost animal scientists. In an era of extraordinary environmental change, Dagg is still convinced we can all make a difference if only more people become involved and carry on like she did. This is an inspiring and well produced documentary that should be at the top of everyone’s list of must-see films. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: Lions and tigers seem like big house cats, at least at a distance. Elephants are portrayed as majestic beasts. And apes, well, they are our evolutionary cousins. But with their high-rise stature, fashionably patterned fur and head horns, giraffes have been perhaps a less relatable creature to the human race. But as the title of Alison Reid’s enlightening documentary reveals, there indeed was The Woman Who Loved Giraffes. Read full review.
MaryAnn Johanson Yet another woman whose pioneering achievements have been largely forgotten is redeemed in the public eye… at least this time, it’s happening while she’s still alive to enjoy it, and while we can continue to benefit from her expertise and passion. Anne Dagg is a remarkable feminist role model who has led a life of adventure — of the intellect as well as the more usual kind — from her early solo journey into South Africa, at a time when white Western women simply didn’t do that, to her later battles for recognition and opportunity to further her work and pass on her knowledge in hidebound sexist academia. Dagg is a true trailblazer, and it’s wonderful to see her celebrated.
Nell Minow: What a pleasure to spend time with Dr. Dagg, a woman who shows us how important — and how transformative — the combination of curiosity, rigorous, fearless intellectual integrity, cheerfulness, and generosity of spirit can be.
Leslie Combemale Have you heard of Anne Innis Dagg? The answer is probably not, and people around the world should know her. Writer/director Alison Reid’s The Woman Who Loves Giraffes shines a spotlight on Dagg, a Canadian who traveled to Africa alone in the 50s to do some of the first studying ever of animals in their own habitat. The researcher and, as the film’s title suggests, lover of all things giraffe-related, has had the tenacity and fearlessness to fight misogyny not only in academia, but the world at large. Read full review.
Loren King Alison Reid’s illuminating documentary is a terrific introduction to Anne Innis Dagg, a mild mannered Canadian zoologist who has only recently been given her due. Dagg’s groundbreaking discoveries about wild giraffes, meticulously documented during her solo stay in remote South Africa as an enterprising 23 year-old in 1956, are still cited by zoologists, researchers and conservationists who consider her book The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior, and Ecology to be the “the bible” on the subject. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin In The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, filmmaker Alison Reid presents a superb documentary profile of the remarkable Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, who trekked off into the wilds of South Africa in 1956 to study the creatures she’s seen only in cramped cages in zoos. She was the first women zoologist to work alone in the wild — years before the better known Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey — and the first zoologist to study giraffes in their natural habitat. Dr. Dagg is delightfully down to earth and up for adventure. She’s all about having to decide whether to walk silently through the bush so as not to spook the giraffes or to stomp noisily to scare off snakes! And she’s driving around in an old coupe that breaks down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night — but she carries on. The film also covers how male-cominated academia refused to acknowledge Dr. Dagg’s work, and how she fought for recognition. She’s an inspiration. The film’s archival footage is superb. And the giraffes…well, they’re absolutely amazing. And, who knew?
Sandie Angulo Chen:Many have heard of the famous “Trimates” of pioneering female primatologists: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas – and perhaps thanks to the documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, people may finally learn about a formerly unsung hero in the field of animal research: Anne Dagg. The Canadian zookeeper and giraffe expert should be a household name, not just known to other giraffe researchers, but institutional sexism and the lack of a renowned sponsor (the Trimates were known as “Leakey’s Angels” thanks to their connection to world-famous paleo-anthropologist Lewis Leakey) left her with only a narrow but loyal following. Director Alison Reid’s film explores how Dagg’s inability to secure a tenured academic position (a situation she unsuccessfully protested through the Canadian court system) forced her out of the field, despite having literally written the “bible” of giraffe research. Luckily, a younger generation of zoologists and researchers grateful to Dagg came to the rescue and brought her back into the fold as the mentor and superstar she is… if only all women wronged by decades of prejudice had the same opportunity.
Cate Marquis Alison Reid’s delightful, eye-opening documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes focuses on Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, a female scientist nicknamed “the Jane Goodall of giraffes.” In fact, the Canadian-born Dagg went to Africa before Goodall to begin her study of giraffes. While Dagg’s groundbreaking work made her a giant of giraffe research, she remains an unknown figure to the general public, partly because the media is more interested in the great apes and partly because Dagg lacked a famous male scientist backing her when she was working in the 1950s and 1960s. While Jane Goodall had the sponsorship of the famous Louis Leakey, Dags set out on her own to study the animals she had always loved, battling the pervasive sexism of the scientific community in that era and the challenge of working in the field in South Africa under apartheid. Yet, against all odds, she did meticulous field research and published her work, which became foundational texts in the field of giraffe research. This warm documentary not only spotlights the lively Dr. Dagg and her giraffe research but also her inspiring fight against sexism to study the animal she had always loved.
Title: The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
Directors: Alison Reid
Release Date: January 10, 2020
Running Time: 83 minutes
Distribution Company: Zeitgeist Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin