Winner 2008

NOVA: Ape Genius

WGBH/NOVA, National Geographic Television, John Rubin Productions, Inc.

Ape Genius has the requisite beauty of good nature documentaries, but it has much more: philosophical questions explored through multiple scientific techniques and critically examined by filmmaker John Rubin. The large question posed here is: what is it, intrinsically, to be human? Or, as cognitive scientist Brian Hare of Duke University puts it in this ambitious documentary, “What’s the little difference that makes the big difference?” He is talking about the great apes, an elite group of exceptionally smart creatures that includes humans, and about what it is that differentiates us from chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. Ape Genius takes us into various natural settings—jungles for the apes, laboratories for the human scientists—with penetrating photography and analysis. The scientific discoveries made clear here show us that apes indeed have creative intellect, language and problem-solving skills. The difference between us and them, as revealed in a series of revelatory experiments, is that humans explicitly teach each other, so that each generation builds on the last. Apes do not. For its entertaining and enlightening insight and commentary on the essence of being human, Ape Genius is awarded a Peabody Award.


Executive producers: Paula Apsell, John Bredar. Supervising producer: James Donald. Producer, Director, Writer: John Rubin. Cinematographers: Neil Rettig, John Chater, Tobias Corts, Gary Henoch, Richard Slater-Jones. Editor: Jim Ohm.