Gorillas in the Mist (1988) Poster

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  • Occupational therapist Dian Fossey (portrayed by Sigourney Weaver) gives up home, job, and fiancé to become a researcher for famed archeologist Louis Leakey. Her job was simply to count mountain gorillas, but Fossey becomes so enchanted with the endangered apes that she eventually learns to live with them and puts much effort into protecting them and their habitat from illegal poachers.

  • Gorillas in the Mist (1984) is also an autobiography written by Dian Fossey [1932-1985] about her years studying mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, Africa. Her book and a November 1986 essay written by magazine editor Harold T.P. Hayes and published in Life magazine, were the chief basis for the story and screenplay written by Anna Hamilton Phelan and Tab Murphy. Other books that may have been used in writing the screenplay include two biographies of Fossey by the Canadian author and conservationist Farley Mowat: Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey (1987) and Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey (1987). The film, however, makes many deviations from reality. The scenes in which Fossey orchestrated the mock hanging of a poacher and burned poachers' huts were fictional. It also introduced fictional characters, such as the animal trader Van Vecten, and changed the names of Fossey's students.

  • Some were and some weren't. Director Michael Apted had gorilla suits designed that would strongly resemble the anatomy of real gorillas rather than the obvious "man in a gorilla suit" seen in most movies made prior to ensuing decades.

  • Angered and dismayed by the death and mutilation of Digit, the large silverback, Fossey threatens to cut off Van Veeten's (Constantin Alexandrov) hands if she ever sees, hears, or even smells him on her mountain again. That night, as she lay on her bed asleep, the door to her cabin is quietly opened by someone unseen, and the shadow on the wall of a machete swinging down over her body indicates that she has been murdered. Fossey is buried next to Digit's body, and Sembagare (John Omirah Miluwi) rearranges the stones to show that the souls of Fossey and Digit are now united in peace. Just before the credits roll, a postscript states: When Dian Fossey arrived in Africa, the mountain gorilla was doomed to extinction. The result of her life's work was a significant decrease in poaching and the survival of the species. The gorilla population continues to multiply as the spirit of her achievement lives on. Her death remains a mystery.

  • It is not known. Fossey was murdered on December 26th, 1985. Her skull had been split by a panga (a type of machete), a tool widely used by poachers, which she had confiscated years earlier and hung as a decoration on the wall of her living room, adjacent to her bedroom. Fossey was found dead beside her bed and two metres (six feet) away from the hole in the cabin cut on the day of her murder. There was relatively little blood in her bedroom, leading some to believe that she was killed before the head wound was inflicted, as head wounds, even superficial ones, usually bleed profusely. Her biographer Farley Mowat believed that she was not killed by poachers, but by those who viewed her as an impediment to tourism and financial exploitation of the gorillas. He thought that poachers would have killed her in the jungle, which would be less risky for them.

    On the night of Fossey's murder, a metal sheeting from her bedroom was removed at the only place of the bedroom where it would not have been obstructed by her furniture, which supports the case that the murder was committed by someone who was familiar with the cabin and her day-to-day activities. The sheeting of her cabin, which was normally securely locked at night, might also have been removed after the murder to make it appear as if the killing was the work of poachers. But, according to Mowat, it is unlikely that a stranger could have entered her cabin by cutting a hole and then going to her living-room to get the panga, giving Fossey time to escape. The cabin showed signs of a struggle as there was broken glass on the floor and tables and other furniture overturned. Fossey was found dead with her gun beside her but the ammunition didn't fit the weapon. All Fossey's valuables were still in the cabin. Thousands of US dollars in cash and travelers' checks and photo equipment remained untouched, valuables a poor poacher would most likely have taken.

    After Fossey's death, her entire staff, including Rwelekana, a tracker she had fired months before, was arrested. All but Rwelekana, who was later found dead in prison, supposedly having hanged himself, were released. Mowat believed that Fossey had been murdered by an African man who she had admitted to her home. Linda Melvern believed that Protais Zigiranyirazo (a.k.a. "Monsieur Zed"), the governor of Ruhengeri prefecture, ordered Fossey's murder. Zigiranyirazo had strong financial interests in gorilla tourism.


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