My Octopus Teacher (Documentary, Netflix, 2020)
Dirs: Pippa Ehrlich & James Reed
Who is being taught?
Filmmaker Craig Foster, struggling emotionally and feeling burnt out, returns to the joy of his youth, spent in the water, reconnecting with nature and developing a relationship that changes his life.
What does he befriend?
A female octopus, relatively young, but as he quickly learns she’s incredibly intelligent. I don’t know much about marine life, but even someone who does would’ve come away from this film having learnt something, it’s suggested that Craig witnessed the octopus doing things that nobody has ever documented, or at least ever caught on camera before.
Where does this octopus live?
In a kelp forest in a bay near Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the film is set at least in the water, largely underneath the surface, though it regularly cuts back to Craig sitting at what appears to be his dining table, recounting the story and what he learnt. Honestly, I felt like there was little too much of this, he’s almost constantly talking. It’s in the form of telling the story, an ever-present narration, but I think it would be good for the film to have had some breaks from Craig talking about what he saw, to just focus on enjoying the beautiful underwater sights.
When does this take place?
The story recounted of the Octopus, took place over the space of a year, though the film was made after that and apparently took a decade to put together. I’m interested in the filmmaking side, not just how well he was able to film underwater, but how and when the makers of this film, Erlich and Reed, were brought in to tell this story, and what was shot post-fact. Though the footage is all presented like it was shot at the same time period he’s describing, it’s clear that a lot wasn’t, much has been filmed in addition to Foster’s footage, to add other perspectives and additional scenes to build on the main subject.
Why is it such an enjoyable film and getting a lot of interest?
It’s bright, colourful, vibrant, and surprisingly uplifting. It shows a whole other underwater world but adds a captivating narrative to it that distinguishes this from other wildlife documentaries. It’s much lighter than many of the other documentary features (and shorts), that are nominated this year, and because it’s only 90min long, it has moved up a lot of people’s watchlist, including mine, so is maybe one of the few nominated documentaries a lot have seen.
How can I watch this?
It’s streaming on Netflix, so nice and easy to watch almost everywhere. It’s a bright, upbeat, and surprisingly short documentary that is well worth the hour-and-a-half of your time to experience a whole other world and enjoy watching a fascinating life underwater.