Off the coast of Cape Town nests the kelp forests. It is here that local filmmaker, Craig Foster, starred in an exquisite marine life documentary – but more importantly, found a friend. My Octopus Teacher dominated Netflix’s trending list of films to watch, and being a South African work, makes it all the better. The touching documentary boasts a rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In a time of career burn-out, Foster narrates the story of how he retreated from his life by diving into the Cape coast and befriended a female octopus. Audiences follow a man-cephalopod friendship over the course of a year. Through this adventure, Foster (and the viewers) learn about this octopus’ daily activities as she cleverly evades predators, hunts, and even plays with other sea creatures. Foster’s observations have stuck with him, and he emotionally reveres in what he learnt from her in their friendship together.
The documentary is shot in the cold waters of the Cape Town coastline amongst the kelp forests. This is where we spend most of the documentary, watching Foster and his octopus bonding and learning. The film’s cinematography almost magically captures the clear blue ocean with all its flora and fauna. We get close-ups of the octopus’ activities even in dangerous situations, such as where she is being hunted by a pyjama shark. Directors James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich are the duo that brought this aquatic friendship to the screen. Reed has made wildlife documentaries in the past, such as Jago: A life Underwater – another marine documentary, which is about an elderly hunter who deep-sea dives on a single breath in Indonesia. Ehrlich is a filmmaker and journalist. A stand-out moment of filmmaking mastery being when the octopus latches on to the back of the pyjama shark that is trying to catch her as a way to escape it. The thrill of the chase was excitingly captured on screen. Foster’s narrations were quite effective, as they took us through every inch of his mind as he bonded with the octopus. We can hear the emotion in his voice which touchingly further proves the genuine love he had for this octopus. The moving narrations of Foster coupled with stunning cinematography and direction present a poignant tale of an unlikely friendship. The masterful camerawork captured the unique love of Foster for the octopus, and vice versa. This tender package of a documentary shows the relationship man can have with nature, along with valuable life lessons.