Wild Lives: Ming of Harlem + Meshie, Child of a Chimpanzee
Sunday, Apr 28, 2019
Location: Redstone Theater
With director Phillip Warnell and animal cognition researcher Diana Reiss in conversation, and including a special appearance by Harry Raven
The bizarre scenario that can result from people cohabiting with animals is on view in two documentaries from different eras. In 1931, Henry Cushier Raven, the American Museum of Natural History’s Curator of Human and Comparative Anatomy, returned from West Africa to his home in Long Island with a baby chimpanzee named Meshie. Raven shot a home movie-style documentary of Meshie living, playing with, and taking care of his young kids Harry, Jane, and Mary. Meshie, Child of a Chimpanzee (1932, 51 mins.) is part of the American Museum of Natural History’s Library, and was preserved with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Science on Screen will present the restored 35mm print, the first time the film will be screened for a public audience. Harry Raven, six-years-old when his father filmed he and Meshie, is now 91. He will be in attendance to introduce the film and participate in the post-screening question and answer session. (Meshie is now taxidermied and installed in the Hall of Primates at the American Museum of Natural History.)
In 2003, a 450-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger named Ming and a seven-foot alligator named Al were found to have been living over three years in an apartment in a public housing complex in Harlem, with a man named Antoine Yates. Phillip Warnell’s award-winning documentary Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Stories in the Air (2014, 71 mins.) juxtaposes interview, observational, and reconstructed footage of Yates, Ming, and Al to create an outlandish work that regards the human-animal bond.
Meshie, Child of a Chimpanzee and Ming of Harlem will screen back-to-back in a two-hour film program that will be followed by a conversation between director Phillip Warnell and pioneering animal cognition researcher Diana Reiss, Professor of Psychology in the Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology Doctoral program at CUNY.
Credits: Meshie, Child of a Chimpanzee courtesy the American Museum of Natural History. Special thanks to the American Museum of Natural History’s Director of the Department of Library Services Tom Baione; Special Collections and Research Librarian Gregory Raml; Digital Systems Librarian Jen Cwiok; and New Media Content Manager Erin Chapman.
About the speakers:
Diana Reiss is a Professor and Director of the Animal Behavior and Conservation MA and Certificate Programs in the Department of Psychology Department at Hunter College and a Professor in the Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology Doctoral program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Dr. Reiss conducts groundbreaking research in animal communication, cognition, and the evolution of intelligence. She is known for her studies regarding dolphin and elephant self-recognition; she pioneered the use of underwater keyboards with dolphins to investigate their cognitive and communicative abilities. Much of her efforts have focused on raising public awareness and bringing an end to the notorious dolphin drive hunts that were the focus of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove (2009) on which she was a scientific advisor. She is the author of The Dolphin In The Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds And Saving Dolphin Lives, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2011. Prior to her position at Hunter, Dr. Reiss was Director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences at the New York Aquarium, of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and was co-chair of the Animal Enrichment Program at WCS. Her work has been widely published in international scientific journals and has been featured in popular media including in Nature, National Geographic, the Today Show, and on the BBC.
Phillip Warnell is an artist, filmmaker, writer, and Associate Professor and Director of Studies on Experimental Film at Kingston University in London. His work explores philosophical themes including human-animal relations, and he often collaborates with French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. From 2017-18, Warnell was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. His work has been commissioned by and exhibited at the Wellcome Collection in London, and has screened internationally at festivals and museums including the ICA in London, the Tate Modern, CPH: DOX, and the Locarno International Film Festival. Ming Of Harlem, which he completed in 2014, premiered in the Projections section of the New York Film Festival and went on to win the Georges de Beauregard International Prize at FID International Film Festival Marseille and the Universities SIC Award at the IndieLisboa film festival.