The astonishing life and brutal death of gorilla conservationist and researcher Dian Fossey is explored.
SBS Guide

5 Jul 2018 - 2:52 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2018 - 9:39 AM

Dian Fossey: Secrets in The Mist begins with the brutal murder of Gorilla researcher Dian Fossey.

In a voice over, Fossey is heard explaining: "I came here essentially for research. I wanted to know all there was to be known about them". While Fossey is talking about the gorgeous Gorillas that Fossey gave her life to protect, it also provides the documentary with a mission statement as it seeks to reveal the events that led to her death.

As the documentary advises in its opening moments, Fossey was found brutally murdered in her cabin in Rawanda, hacked to death.

Associate Wayne McGuire recounts entering the room where he found tables knocked over, with papers everywhere: "There was blood on her face. Blood on her hair. Blood on the rug where her head was laying. "We knew she had enemies, but she didn't deserve to die like that".

Gorillas In The Mist

To this day, Fossey is best known as the subject of the 1988 film Gorillas In The Mist. Based on her own 1983 of the same name, the Michael Apted film depicts Fossey's work and, while it does incorporate her murder into the story, that is not the subject of the film. The film doesn't devote much time to the many questions surrounding the death of Fossey or her assailant.

In the film, Sigourney Weaver portrayed Fossey and was nominated for an Academy Award for her work. It was an iconic role for Weaver, who returns here in this documentary to provide the voice of Dian Fossey.

 "She sacrificed her life for the Gorillas" - Jean Bosco Bizumeremyi

Robert's footage

Fossey worked with the Gorillas for almost twenty years, from 1966-1985. During that time, she formed a relationship with Robert Campbell, who had been sent to photograph the mountain gorillas that Fossey had been working with. Thanks to the intimacy that Fossey had developed with the gorillas, Campbell was able to get close to them. The photographs that Campbell saw published in National Geographic offered a clarity and closeness of proximity to the gorillas never before seen. 

The documentary, produced by National Geographic Films, includes a lot of the video footage that Campbell recorded of Fossey. 


A criticism leveled at the Gorillas In The Mist movie was that the film sought to normalise Dian Fossey. To make her seem like an everyday person. Dian Fossey: Secrets in The Mist suggests that Fossey was anything but normal. Fossey was an outsider who found herself while working with the Gorillas. She had no formal scientific training and got out in the wild forming relationships with the gorillas by copying their behaviours. She took her tall, gangly body and used it to mimic them. 

Her romantic relationship with Campbell is also touched upon. It was a relationship that had no future, with Campbell returning to his family. 

The key relationships Fossey had in her life was with the gorillas. Colleague Joseph Munyaneza "She loved gorillas more than anything, probably including humans". 

After Bob left, Dian became more attached to the gorillas as individuals, particularly with a gorilla named Digit. In part 2 of Dian Fossey: Secrets in The Mist, the documentary explores the later years of her life, including her reaction to the slaughter of Digit.

Stream the three-part Dian Fossey: Secrets in The Mist now at SBS On Demand:

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