Of all the things on planet earth, nothing fascinates man more than the unexplored depths of the ocean. It was equal parts curiosity and despair that drove film-maker and naturalist Craig Foster to deep dive into the undersea kelp forests off Cape Town. This became the subject of the documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ released in 2020. Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the Netflix Original Documentary takes viewers through an unusual friendship Craig develops with an octopus.
When years of work started rubbing off on him, leading to a creative block, Foster decided to find refuge in freestyle deep sea diving. In the uncertain, yet absolutely fascinating kelp forest, he comes across a common octopus. In what could only be called the most unfavourable setting for a friendship to develop, Foster obsessively begins diving back to follow the life and patterns of the octopus. Backed by his voice over and intermittent shots of him throwing open his personal turmoils, Foster takes us through the deep sea and his life that in the end is deeply touched by a harmless and playful cephalopod.
While at times it may seem a bit far fetched when Foster suggested that his life mirrored that of the octopus’, the way the film slowly revolves around the lifespan of the alien beings struggle in the vast ocean and a simple man’s yearning to hold onto an impossible bond, could tug at one’s heartstrings in the end.
What makes this documentary hit closer to home, is how the makers chose a more personal approach to the narrative. It is Foster’s eyes and thoughts that take viewers through the lives within the kelp forest. His unrushed emotions, that swims along with the octopus, as it teaches him simple things in life, made the documentary worthy of an Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature and BAFTA for Best Documentary this year.
The camera work is nothing short of magic. Foster, who is also the DoP for the project, collaborated with cameraman Roger Horrocks who was behind the lens for Blue Planet 2.
The 85-minute long documentary is packed with brilliant visuals, which would remind one of the popular Blue Planet, minus the soothing voice-over of David Attenborough. But unlike the Blue Planet, My Octopus Teacher is less scientific and more poetic in nature. This coupled with the understanding that the documentary is years of continued observation and hard work makes it a compelling watch.
My Octopus Teacher continues to fascinate the young and old across the globe. A simple octopus’ daily life and how she adapts to outrun its predators and takes on the role of a crab hunter are sights to behold. It is survival of the fittest at its best. Give this a miss only if you cannot sit through the simple pleasures of life.
Directed by: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed
Produced by: Craig Foster
Written by: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed
Starring: Craig Foster, Tom Foster
Music by: Kevin Smuts
DoP: Roger Horrocks