Brett Morgen qualifies as one of the most successful directors in documentary film, with credits that range from Cobain: Montage of Heck to The Kid Stays in the Picture, and a raft of awards to his name. But, surprisingly, his long list of honors doesn’t include a Primetime Emmy.
“I have a terrible track record at the Emmys. I am currently 0-for-21 with my movies. The day tends to be very long,” he says of the Creative Arts ceremony, where Emmys in documentary categories are presented.
But that “oh-for” streak could end next month when his latest documentary, Jane, competes for seven Emmys including the prestigious Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. The film, about the pioneering primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, is also nominated for nonfiction directing, writing, cinematography, editing, sound editing and sound mixing.
“First and foremost, we’re just thrilled that our film has received this recognition and will continue to be in a public conversation,” Morgen tells Deadline. “That was ultimately our intention, to get it out to as many people as possible.”
Jane earned more than $1.7 mil. during its theatrical release and gained eligibility for Emmy consideration by airing on the National Geographic Channel. In fact, the documentary is built around hours of footage shot for NatGeo in the 1960s capturing Goodall as she conducted research on chimpanzees in the wild in Gombe, Tanzania. That raw material was long thought lost, and was only recently rediscovered in National Geographic archives.
The original footage was recorded without sound, which was typical in those early days of remote filming. Further complicating matters for Morgen, when the director got his hands on the long-lost trove he found the material completely jumbled, totally out of sequence.
“We had 140 hours of random shots, with no sound, featuring 160 chimps that didn’t have name tags, of which only four were relevant to us,” Morgen recalls. ”It took about eight months of work just to organize the material by theme.”
Given all that, Joe Beshenkovsky’s Emmy nomination for editing Jane is well deserved, the filmmaker maintains.