Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

PG-13 | 129 mins | Biography, Drama | 23 September 1988

Director:

Michael Apted

Cinematographer:

John Seale

Editor:

Stuart Baird

Production Designer:

John Graysmark

Production Companies:

Warner Bros. Pictures , The Guber-Peters Company
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HISTORY

The film contains intermittent voice-over narration by Sigourney Weaver and Iain Cuthbertson as “Dian Fossey” and “Dr. Louis Leakey” exchange letters about their work.
       End credits are preceded by the epilogue: “When Dian Fossey arrived in Africa, the mountain gorilla was doomed to extinction. The result of her life’s work was a significant decrease in poaching and the survival of the species. The gorilla population continues to multiply as the spirit of her achievement lives on. Her death remains a mystery.”
       On 21 May 1984, DV announced that the newly launched theatrical film operation of Fries Entertainment Inc. (FEI) planned to adapt Dian Fossey’s 1983 novel, Gorillas in the Mist. Carroll Ballard and Caleb Deschanel were considered to direct, with “someone like Debra Winger” in the starring role. However, the project never came to fruition, and a 30 Oct 1986 LAT article indicated that film rights to Fossey’s novel passed to Universal Pictures in 1984. The 18 Sep 1988 NYT suggested that producer Arnold Glimcher had hoped Fossey would participate in the film and had traveled to Rwanda to meet with her just hours before her murder on 26 Dec 1985. Regardless, Glimcher decided to pursue the project in the interest of raising awareness for Fossey’s work, and her tragic death was incorporated into the screenplay.
       Around this time, Skip Steloff of Heritage Entertainment read about Fossey in the NYT and immediately began developing a book with author Farley Mowat, titled The Strange Life and Death of Dian Fossey, which he planned to adapt into a feature film. In Oct 1986, eighteen years’ worth of Fossey’s ... More Less

The film contains intermittent voice-over narration by Sigourney Weaver and Iain Cuthbertson as “Dian Fossey” and “Dr. Louis Leakey” exchange letters about their work.
       End credits are preceded by the epilogue: “When Dian Fossey arrived in Africa, the mountain gorilla was doomed to extinction. The result of her life’s work was a significant decrease in poaching and the survival of the species. The gorilla population continues to multiply as the spirit of her achievement lives on. Her death remains a mystery.”
       On 21 May 1984, DV announced that the newly launched theatrical film operation of Fries Entertainment Inc. (FEI) planned to adapt Dian Fossey’s 1983 novel, Gorillas in the Mist. Carroll Ballard and Caleb Deschanel were considered to direct, with “someone like Debra Winger” in the starring role. However, the project never came to fruition, and a 30 Oct 1986 LAT article indicated that film rights to Fossey’s novel passed to Universal Pictures in 1984. The 18 Sep 1988 NYT suggested that producer Arnold Glimcher had hoped Fossey would participate in the film and had traveled to Rwanda to meet with her just hours before her murder on 26 Dec 1985. Regardless, Glimcher decided to pursue the project in the interest of raising awareness for Fossey’s work, and her tragic death was incorporated into the screenplay.
       Around this time, Skip Steloff of Heritage Entertainment read about Fossey in the NYT and immediately began developing a book with author Farley Mowat, titled The Strange Life and Death of Dian Fossey, which he planned to adapt into a feature film. In Oct 1986, eighteen years’ worth of Fossey’s diary entries, photographs, and other work-related artifacts were turned over to her parents, who agreed to give the material to Heritage in exchange for a share of the film’s profits.
       Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1986, Warner Bros. Pictures and The Guber-Peters Company announced plans to begin production on another Fossey biopic, Heaven and Earth, with director Bob Rafelson and screenwriter Tab Murphy. Although Steloff possessed some of the most critical documents about Fossey’s life, Universal and Warner Bros. had already completed their scripts by the time Heritage began research in Africa. Intimidated by the pressure of competing with two major studios, Heritage opted instead to develop its material as a four-hour, two-part miniseries for CBS Television, as reported in the 19 Dec 1986 DV. A few months later, the 10 Feb 1987 DV stated that Universal had filed a $5 million lawsuit against Fossey’s mother, Hazel Fossey Price, whose cooperation with Heritage violated a promise Fossey had made to Universal in Mar 1985, which would allow the studio access to biographical information and an option on her novel. Although Heritage won the suit, a 16 Sep 1988 LAT article stated that new management at CBS dropped the miniseries shortly after.
       As doubts arose over the commercial viability of two competing Dian Fossey projects, a 21 Jan 1987 Var item announced that Universal and Warner Bros. had decided to join forces to produce and distribute Gorillas in the Mist. Each studio had reportedly spent more than $4 million on pre-production, before agreeing to a total budget of $24 million.
       Amid the changes, Rafelson left the project and was replaced by Michael Apted. The 30 Oct 1986 LAT and 13 Jan 1987 Var revealed that Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, and Vanessa Redgrave expressed interest in the role of Dian Fossey, which ultimately went to Sigourney Weaver.
       An undated article in the Toronto Star indicated that author Farley Mowat was one of several biographers who consulted with Weaver about Fossey’s life. Despite his former deal with Heritage, Mowat wrote the biography, Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey and the Mountain Gorillas of Africa, which was published in 1988. As Fossey had become a somewhat controversial figure in the years before her death, Apted struggled with the issue of how to best represent her tough and often violent crusades “without losing the audience’s sympathy for her.” The director also chose to omit Fossey’s possible rape by Congolese soldiers when she was evicted from the country in 1966—an incident which likely affected Fossey’s attitude toward the African people but was highly disputed by her friends and associates.
       Two weeks before production, Warner Bros. president Terry S. Semel threatened to pull out of the project, citing that the film was already $4 million over budget. Determined to continue working, Glimcher, Apted, Weaver, and several other crewmembers relinquished at least $3 million of their combined salaries, with Glimcher taking a percentage of the backend.
       Production notes in AMPAS library files indicated that principal photography began 1 Jun 1987 in the jungles of Rwanda. After eight weeks, production moved for a week to Nairobi, Kenya. The following four weeks were spent at a tent base camp in Kenya’s Aberdare Mountains, located 8,500 feet above sea level. The 18 Sep 1988 NYT stated that more than 400 Rwandans served as porters and messengers, and cast and crew members were required to carry equipment from the camp to Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center each day. After three months in Africa, an additional three weeks of interior filming took place at Lee International Studios in Shepperton, England.
       A 19 Sep 1988 HR article recounted the unique challenges Apted faced while filming. Although he initially considered using “tourist gorillas,” the animals were too accustomed to human contact and did not interact with Weaver, forcing the filmmaker to seek out the wild gorillas near Fossey’s remote camp. As a result, all locations were determined by the gorillas, whose grazing habits kept them in constant search for more food. For several hours each day, two cameras closely followed the movements of the gorillas, while a third cameraman documented the main narrative. The NYT article stated that government restrictions only allowed five crewmembers to enter the gorillas’ habitat at a time, while Weaver’s contact with the animals was limited to just one hour per day. Although a tracker taught Weaver the essential primate communication techniques, members of the wildlife unit used an earpiece to coach the actress through her interactions.
       The murder of Fossey’s favorite silverback, “Digit,” was the only scene that did not feature live gorillas. For these stunts, four human performers wore gorilla suits constructed by special makeup designer Rick Baker, who had won an Academy Award for his work on the 1984 British film, Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The 16 Sep 1988 LAT estimated the cost of the radio-controlled costumes at $4 million.
       According to the Toronto Star, the budget was frequently adjusted to lengthen the shooting schedule and maximize the amount of available film stock. Since postproduction equipment and facilities were not accessible in the jungle, Apted was forced to “mentally edit” each day’s work. According to a 16 Sep 1988 DV article, Apted had roughly 300,000 feet of unused gorilla footage, which he offered to release to any parties interested in using the material.
       An 11 Aug 1988 HR item indicated that the film was scheduled to be presented at an exclusive “pre-premiere screening” on 25 Aug 1988 for members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA/LA). The film debuted at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, followed by a Los Angeles premiere on 19 Sep 1988 at the Cineplex Odeon Universal City Cinemas. The 1 Sep 1988 DV stated that Weaver was to serve as honorary chairwoman for the event, which benefitted the Los Angeles Zoo and Fossey’s organization, the Digit Fund.
       According to a 5 Oct 1988 Long Beach Press-Telegram article, Universal was greatly concerned about the film’s commercial prospects after initial research revealed that the subject matter appealed mostly to women over twenty-five. As a result, Universal opted to test the film at just fifteen theaters in twelve cities beginning 23 Sep 1988, while running a variety of television advertisements which separately highlighted the story’s romance and action elements. Once reviews began generating positive word of mouth, the film expanded to a 550-theater national release on 30 Sep 1988.
       Weaver and composer Maurice Jarre received Golden Globe Awards and were nominated for Academy Awards in their respective categories. The picture was also nominated for Film Editing, Sound, and Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium).
       Shortly after the film’s release, the 28 Oct 1988 Long Beach Press-Telegram announced that Weaver and producer Arnold Glimcher pledged to adopt Maggie, one of the gorillas featured in the film, while encouraging others to donate to help fund research and anti-poaching campaigns. A few years later, an item in the 15 Jun 1992 issue of People magazine reported that Mrithi, the twenty-four-year-old silverback who portrayed Digit, had been shot dead by “unknown assailants” and was discovered on 21 May 1992.
       Acknowledgments state: “Produced with the assistance of The Rwandan Office of Information and The Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks”; “The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following: Dr. David Watts, Former Director of Karisoke Research Station, Rwanda; Mark Condiotti, Assistant Director, Mountain Gorilla Project; Dr. Perez Olindo, Director of Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, Kenya; The Zaire Institute for the Conservation of Nature; Diana McMeekin, African Wildlife Foundation; Stacey Coil, Digit Fund; The Leakey Foundation; Ker and Downey Safaris Ltd; and Mrs Rosamund Carr and the People of the Republic of Rwanda”; and, “Made on location in the Republics of Rwanda and Kenya and at Lee International Studios Shepperton, England.”
       The actors who portray “Lucille Dowd,” “Daveed,” and “Usheppe” are not credited onscreen, and could not be identified in the film. The name of actor Iain Glen is misspelled as “Iain Glenn.”
       While the onscreen title card reads Gorillas in the Mist: The story [sic] of Dian Fossey, promotional materials in AMPAS library files refer to the film as Gorillas in the Mist: The Adventure of Dian Fossey. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
21 May 1984
p. 1, 12.
Daily Variety
19 Dec 1986.
---
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1987.
---
Daily Variety
1 Sep 1988.
---
Daily Variety
16 Sep 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Aug 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 1988
p. 4, 34.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Sep 1988.
---
Long Beach Press-Telegram
5 Oct 1988.
---
Long Beach Press-Telegram
28 Oct 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Oct 1986
Section VI, p. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times
16 Sep 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Sep 1988
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
18 Sep 1988
p. 1, 25.
New York Times
23 Sep 1988
Section C, p. 19.
People
15 Jun 1992.
---
Variety
13 Jan 1987.
---
Variety
21 Jan 1987.
---
Variety
21 Sep 1988
p. 30.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures Present
A Guber-Peters Production
In Association with Arnold Glimcher
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
Spec gorilla photog (Zaire)
Cam op
Cam op
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller (Zaire)
Clapper/Loader
Clapper/Loader
Clapper/Loader
Key grip
Key grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Stills
Spec photog
Cams and lenses by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Sketch artist
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prod buyer
Set dec
Const mgr
Asst const mgr
Greensman
Asst greensman
Props
Props
Props
Dressing props
Dressing props
Supv const
Const floor standby
Const floor standby
Const floor standby
Const floor standby
COSTUMES
Ward master
Ward asst
Ward asst
Spec cost key person
MUSIC
Orig mus by
Mus ed
Mus rec by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd maintenance
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Dubbing mixer
Asst dubbing mixer
Re-rec at
Shepperton
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff cam
Spec eff supv
Spec eff mechanical des
Spec eff mechanical des
Titles and opticals by
DANCE
Mime artiste's choreog
MAKEUP
Spec makeup eff by
Makeup supv
Makeup
Chief hairdresser
Hairdresser
Spec eff hair des
Makeup eff des
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Financial controller
Loc mgr, Rwanda
Asst loc mgr, Rwanda
Loc mgr, Kenya
Unit mgr, Studio
Prod coord
Prod coord
Spec asst/Interpreter
Asst to prods
Asst to Mr. Apted
Asst to Mr. Trevor
Scr supv
Asst scr supv
Des/Puppeteer
Animal trainer
Transport mgr
Unit car
Pub coord
Loc unit doctor
Local casting, Kenya
Casting asst
Loc liaison, Kenya
London contact
Loc prod asst
Floor runner
Prod runner
Prod runner
Loc accountant
Loc accountant
Deputy accountant
Prod asst
Asst to Mr. Glimcher
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
COLOR PERSONNEL
[Col by]
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the autobiography Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey (Boston, 1983) and the article "The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey" by Harold T. P. Hayes (publication undetermined).
SONGS
"September In The Rain," written by Harry Warren & Al Dubin, performed by Peggy Lee, courtesy of Ray Avery's Jazz Archives
"It's A Good Day," written by Peggy Lee & Dave Barbour, performed by Peggy Lee, courtesy of Capitol Records Inc. Special Markets
"Sugar," written by Maceo Pinkard, Sidney Mitchell & Edna Alexander, performed by Peggy Lee, courtesy of MCA Records.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey
Release Date:
23 September 1988
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 19 September 1988
Los Angeles and New York openings: 23 September 1988
Production Date:
began 1 June 1987
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc., Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
18 May 1989
Copyright Number:
PA420604
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
gauge
35mm
Duration(in mins):
129
Length(in feet):
11,613
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29234
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After attending a lecture in 1966, physical therapist Dian Fossey approaches esteemed anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey about conducting a census of the mountain gorillas in Central Africa, which have quickly become endangered. Although she has no anthropological qualifications, Dian argues that her work with handicapped children gives her the experience necessary to interact with the reclusive animals. Sensing her determination, Dr. Leakey concedes. Once in the Congo, Dian is shocked to learn she will be working alone in the mountains, as Dr. Leakey continues on to Tanzania. In the market, she hires a tracker named Sembagare before climbing to a remote cabin in the Virunga Mountains, using the book of biologist George Schaller as a guide. After six weeks of fruitless searching, they finally encounter a small band of gorillas, but their work is soon interrupted when a group of Congolese soldiers mistake Dian for a British spy and force her to leave. As the region becomes embroiled in a civil war, she and Sembagare seek refuge at the house of their American contact, Roz Carr, in the neighboring country of Rwanda. Despite the setback, Dian resumes her work from the Rwandan side of the mountain range and erects the Karisoke Research Center between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Visoke. Over time, she becomes increasingly comfortable around the gorillas and establishes unprecedented physical contact with the animals. By adopting the mannerisms of the gorillas, she develops an emotional bond with a large silverback, who she names “Digit” in reference to abnormal webbing between his fingers. Dr. Leakey is pleased by her progress, and extends her work permit. One night, Australian photographer Bob Campbell arrives unannounced to take pictures for ... +


After attending a lecture in 1966, physical therapist Dian Fossey approaches esteemed anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey about conducting a census of the mountain gorillas in Central Africa, which have quickly become endangered. Although she has no anthropological qualifications, Dian argues that her work with handicapped children gives her the experience necessary to interact with the reclusive animals. Sensing her determination, Dr. Leakey concedes. Once in the Congo, Dian is shocked to learn she will be working alone in the mountains, as Dr. Leakey continues on to Tanzania. In the market, she hires a tracker named Sembagare before climbing to a remote cabin in the Virunga Mountains, using the book of biologist George Schaller as a guide. After six weeks of fruitless searching, they finally encounter a small band of gorillas, but their work is soon interrupted when a group of Congolese soldiers mistake Dian for a British spy and force her to leave. As the region becomes embroiled in a civil war, she and Sembagare seek refuge at the house of their American contact, Roz Carr, in the neighboring country of Rwanda. Despite the setback, Dian resumes her work from the Rwandan side of the mountain range and erects the Karisoke Research Center between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Visoke. Over time, she becomes increasingly comfortable around the gorillas and establishes unprecedented physical contact with the animals. By adopting the mannerisms of the gorillas, she develops an emotional bond with a large silverback, who she names “Digit” in reference to abnormal webbing between his fingers. Dr. Leakey is pleased by her progress, and extends her work permit. One night, Australian photographer Bob Campbell arrives unannounced to take pictures for National Geographic magazine. Although Dian initially reacts coldly to his presence, the two become lovers and compatible work partners. Eventually, Bob is assigned to a project in Nairobi, where he reunites with his wife. Meanwhile, Dian discovers that Batwa hunters have slaughtered several gorillas and captured an injured infant. As they flee, Dian and Sembagare detain a young Batwa boy and question him about the hunters' intentions. Dian traces the baby gorilla and several other animals to a zoo broker named Claude Van Vecten, and learns that the deal was approved by Mukara, Minister of the Interior, who uses the money to aid the country’s human population. Knowing she cannot change government policy, Dian nurses the gorilla back to health so Van Vecten can complete the sale, and Mukara provides her with three men to train as anti-poaching rangers. News of Dian’s efforts saving “Pucker” gains worldwide attention, and Bob returns to announce that he intends to divorce his wife. However, when he accepts a position photographing primates in Borneo, Asia, Dian is unwilling to leave her work with the gorillas and ends the relationship. Five years later, Dian has assumed control of the project following Dr. Leakey’s death and welcomes her first team of research students. Although she has successfully protected the gorillas from poachers, Digit is brutally killed and beheaded by Van Vecten’s men. Threatening the offenders, Dian vengefully burns the Batwa villages and lashes out at her researchers, who are disturbed by her behavior. After mourning Digit, she returns to the group and meets the silverback’s new baby, who carries the same distinctive trait as his father. Increasingly determined to defend the remaining animals, Dian begins to intimidate tourists venturing up the mountain, which provokes ire from Mukara. Shortly after Christmas, an intruder murders Dian in her sleep, and her body is buried in the mountain cemetery where Digit and the other slain gorillas have been laid to rest. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.