Penny Patterson, an American psychology student, began an experiment in primate communication in the early 1970s using a young zoo gorilla named Koko, who was loaned to Penny for the experiment. Due to a philosophical predisposition to consider that “humanizing” animals is wrong, and alarmed at the increasing publicity over the experiments, the zoo took back the gorilla, which by then had learned over three hundred signs and showed, to many observers, an almost human comprehension of her condition. This French documentary explores the experiments, the circumstances of Koko’s being withdrawn from them, and the question of the gorilla’s “civil rights,” if any.
– All Movie Guide
In 1977, acclaimed director Barbet Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros entered the universe of the world’s most famous primate to create the captivating documentary Koko: A Talking Gorilla. The film introduces us to Koko soon after she was brought from the San Francisco Zoo to Stanford University by Dr. Penny Patterson for a controversial experiment—she would be taught the basics of human communication through American Sign Language. An entertaining, troubling, and still relevant documentary, Koko: A Talking Gorilla sheds light on the ongoing ethical and philosophical debates over the individual rights of animals and brings us face-to-face with an amazing gorilla caught in the middle.