ALISON REID: ON SMITTEN BY GIRAFFES
The first time I heard about Anne Innis Dagg her story captivated me, and never let me go.
As I listened to “Wild Journey”, a CBC radio documentary that told the tale of Anne’s pioneering journey to study giraffes in South Africa in 1956, I was riveted by every word.
I immediately read Pursuing Giraffe: A 1950’s Adventure (the book Anne wrote about that experience) and knew I had to make a film about it.
Most of my experience in film and television has been in the narrative world. So, my mind automatically went to what an amazing drama this would make: Out of Africa, Born Free, ‘Giraffes’ in the Mist, Tracks, etc.
As I was starting to develop that film, Anne was invited to attend a Giraffe Indaba (or conference) in Nairobi. She would be returning to Africa to see giraffes in the wild for the first time in 57 years.
To me this was an historic event – one that we couldn’t miss recording. There was no time to raise financing. So, I took a leap of faith, found a small crew willing to go to Africa, and self-financed the trip.
That is how the documentary, Smitten By Giraffes was born.
Anne’s trailblazing field research resulted in many scientific papers and the book The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behaviour and Ecology, (co-written with Bristol Foster in 1976). Referred to today as the the “bible on giraffes” by scientists, conservation biologists and zookeepers worldwide, it is the most influential book on the species ever written.
As I got to know Anne, it became clear that her giraffe endeavours were just the tip of the iceberg in regard to the compelling parts of her story.
I realized I could not make a documentary about her without including part of her Canadian story. Anne’s father was the famous economist Harold Innis, and her mother, Mary Quayle was Dean of Women at the University of Toronto.
Anne’s dream was to follow in her parents footsteps, and become a university professor. This would enable her to continue her giraffe research as well as teach. But, that dream was not realized — at least in the way she imagined.
Shortly after the publication of The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behaviour and Ecology, our intrepid adventurer hit an unforeseen obstacle and disappeared from the giraffe world. This left the research community asking: What happened to Anne Innis Dagg?
Our film is the story of her re-discovery.