While director Alison Reid tries to be a bit more engaging than a simple talking-head documentary, with varying success, the movie has earnestness and heart. So, even with its issues, it is still a solid good time.
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Despite some grim ecological statistics and a conservationist message, the movie is so inspirational it feels like the sort of old-fashioned family film that can now be excavated on Disney+.
The best part of the film is early on, when Innis Dagg’s story is enlivened by beautiful color 16mm footage she took in the 1950s and ’60s.
Blessed with a trove of 16-millimeter film footage captured during this yearlong adventure, the director, Alison Reid, uses it as the foundation for a far-ranging story of scientific discovery, sexual discrimination and environmental alarm.
“Giraffes” benefits not only from Dagg’s charismatic presence but also from excerpts of letters she wrote during her first trip to Africa (read by Tatiana Maslany) and 16-millimeter color film she shot back in the day.
The documentary loses a bit when Dagg returns home, and an alarmingly perky score doesn’t help. Late in life, after her tenure struggles, she published a new edition of her dissertation and found herself rediscovered.
The first story “Giraffes” tells is one of endangered animals. The second — and equally powerful one — is a narrative of not just one woman’s struggle to be taken seriously, but the struggle of all women to do so.
Reid meticulously investigates why Dr. Dagg’s groundbreaking work didn’t quite collect the widespread acclaim that it deserved. Underneath it all lies a heartbreaking tale of a driven woman stifled by institutional misogyny — a fascinating story stunt coordinator-turned-filmmaker Reid patiently approaches from various captivating angles.