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Critical Consensus: "Project Nim" Tops Busy Weekend For Indie Openers

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 6, 2011 at 2:44AM

From the Oscar-winning team behind "Man on Wire," "Project Nim" looks to be one of the summer's most acclaimed documentary releases, topping a crowded week on criticWIRE. The film, directed by James Marsh, tells the story of Nim, a chimpanzee who, in the 1970s, became the focus of a landmark experiment that aimed to prove an ape - if raised and nurtured like a human child - could learn to communicate using sign language. The film premiered to raves at the Sundance Film Festival, and is making its way to theaters this weekend via Roadside Attractons.
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Critical Consensus: "Project Nim" Tops Busy Weekend For Indie Openers
James Marsh's "Project Nim." Roadside Attractions/HBO Documentaries.

From the Oscar-winning team behind "Man on Wire," "Project Nim" looks to be one of the summer's most acclaimed documentary releases, topping a crowded week on criticWIRE. The film, directed by James Marsh, tells the story of Nim, a chimpanzee who, in the 1970s, became the focus of a landmark experiment that aimed to prove an ape - if raised and nurtured like a human child - could learn to communicate using sign language. The film premiered to raves at the Sundance Film Festival, and is making its way to theaters this weekend via Roadside Attractons.

"Nim" averaged an A- based on 30 reviews, including A-level scores care of folks at The Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly, Variety, Time Out New York, and IFC News. It topped another acclaimed Sundance doc, Michael Rapaport's "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest," which also earned high scores, as well as four others: Michael Tully's "Septien," Catherine Breillat's "The Sleeping Beauty," John Carpenter's "The Ward," and Matthew Chapman's "The Ledge." Notable with regard to the latter: "The Ledge" is actually the lowest scoring film in the history of criticWIRE. Call it the anti-pick of the week.

indieWIRE's own critic Eric Kohn takes on this week's releases below:


It's a family affair in the specialty market this weekend, but not in the usual sense: The critical darling opening this week, "Project Nim," follows a monkey subjected to maternal care, and the inevitably chaotic fallout. Although on the surface a scientific tale, "Nim" actually focuses on its human subjects and the way the experiment conforms to the whims of their desires (much like the daredevils at the heart of Marsh's Oscar-winning "Man on Wire"). For that reason, it works as a kind of companion piece to Michael Rappaport's "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest," another story about manufactured family bonds that eventually turn sour, although not at the expense of great music.

And then there's Michael Tully's bizarrely amusing "Septien," a Southern-fried surrealistic tale of three brothers confronting their dark past. Tully's oddball narrative derives much of its deadpan comic appeal from his performance: Buried in a beard and hiding behind a pair of colorful shades, he's about as backwards as poor Nim, and only a little more vocal. However, only Marsh's film has something profound to say about family ties, and the danger that ensues when they fall apart. In the case of "Tribe," despite numerous problems, the band plays on.

Check out the links below for more extensive takes on "Project Nim," "Beats, Rhymes & Life," "Septien," "The Sleeping Beauty," "The Ward" and "The Ledge." Also offered is the top 10 criticWIRE scores for films already in theaters, which is currently topped by Rodman Fletcher's "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop."

iW Film Calendar & criticWIRE:
criticWIRE | Opening this week | Opening this month | All Films A - Z

criticWIRE: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article. They are subject to change as new grades come in, and will be updated in next week's edition of this article.

Project Nim (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: A-

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Septien (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

The Sleeping Beauty (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

The Ward (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C-

The Ledge (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: D-


criticWIRE: 10 Best Bets Already In Theaters

1. Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: A-

2. Meek's Cutoff (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

3. Tuesday After Christmas (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

4. Page One (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

5. Buck (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

6. Terri (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

7. Submarine (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

8. Viva Riva! (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

9. The Trip (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

10. Passione (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+


Previous Picks of the Week:
June 29: Azazel Jacobs' "Terri"
June 22: Rodman Fletcher's "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop"
June 15: Andrew Rossi's "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times"
June 8: Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip"
June 1: Richard Ayoade's "Submarine"
May 25: Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life"
May 18: Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris"
May 11: Lu Chaun's "City of Life and Death"
May 4: Koji Wakamatsu's "Caterpillar"
April 27: Clio Barnard's "The Arbor"
April 20: Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies"
April 13: Janus Metz's "Armadillo"
April 6: Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff"
March 30: Michaelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte"