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A Woman for the Wild: Gorilla Girl World Premier 

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The world premiere of Gorilla Girl is coming to Grants Pass. Credit: Melanie Fine

Sometimes the bond between human and animal goes to such depths it can break barriers to our understanding. Heartisan Films and Wildlife Images announce the world premiere of Gorilla Girl, a documentary chronicling the life of animal relations specialist, Ann Southcombe, as she gives us an intimate glimpse into the intricate minds of these non-human earthlings. 

Since childhood, Southcombe has held a special connection with animals and knew early in life all she wanted to do was to be with them and to help them.

“The only place to do that after I graduated high school was the local zoo,” she says. But in 1965 the Cincinnati Zoo didn’t hire women.

“I had to wait five years and then I became the second women hired,” she recalls. “That’s when I raised all kinds of baby exotic animals like tigers and lions and gorillas.”

Southcombe’s love and admiration for gorillas took her into teaching them sign language. At the University of Tennessee she became a surrogate parent and teacher to Chantek, an orangutan she worked with for seven years. The journey, she admits, was emotionally hard.

“Anybody that has an animal knows the heart connection you have with them,” she says. “They’re very much like us; they think and feel on a heart-soul level. You get attached and then you have to leave or they die.”

Over the years she moved throughout the country and parts of South America, helping and teaching animals before arriving at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center in Grants Pass where she worked in the wildlife hospital. Over a thousand animals are rehabilitated each year at the facility, with the goal of releasing them back to the wild. 

“There aren’t many places like Wildlife Images,” she says. “You know, the way humans destroy animals, we need one place that puts them back.”

“We wanted to create a series about people having a unique connection to the earth, a special relationship to nature,” says filmmaker and co-director, Antonio Melendez. “To do the pilot, I reached out to Ann thinking we were just going to do a 10-minute film but her story was so rich we wound up doing a 45-minute piece about her.”

Melendez, founder of Heartisan Films in Grants Pass, co-directed the film with videographer and editor, Rob Grobman, to produce the documentary which spans four decades of Southcombe’s work.

“My biggest hope is that Ann’s message affects peoples’ lives in some way because she wants this event to raise awareness about animals’ consciousness,” says Grobman. “And for Heartisan, it’s always about finding ways that we can take our medium and make it more impactful and hopefully inspire action and change.”

Gorilla Girl is the pilot for Heartisan Films’ nature series In Our Element, which will focus on people with unique perspectives and approaches to their relationship with nature. After producing numerous fund-raising films for local non-profit organizations in Jackson and Josephine counties, Melendez, who is also a professional photographer, musician and writer, says Heartisan Films is now transitioning into creating their own passion projects. 

“I’ve always been a story teller and I love listening,” Melendez says. “Stories are sacred and it’s an honor to share them in an honest and beautiful way.”

All proceeds from the event will go to Wildlife Images and Coming Attractions Theatres of Ashland has donated their Southgate Cinemas in Grants Pass for the viewing.

Southcombe’s new book Tales From Gorilla Girl: the Magic and Mystery of My Life with Animals will be available for purchase. A Q&A with the directors and Southcombe, as well as an Animal Ambassador Encounter with Wildlife Images, will follow the film.


Gorilla Girl World Premiere
6 pm, Saturday, August 17
Southgate Cinemas, 1625 Ringuette, Grants Pass



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