When a Cape Town man makes friends with an octopus an unbelievable story unfolds

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Craig Foster and the octopus in My Octopus Teacher. (Photo: Ross Frylinck)
Craig Foster and the octopus in My Octopus Teacher. (Photo: Ross Frylinck)
  • Filmmaker Craig Foster suffers from burnout and needs to reconnect with his roots.
  • He goes diving in a kelp forest off the shore of Cape Town and makes friends with a curious octopus.
  • Their journey together is beautifully captured in the must-watch new Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher, which just won the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 93rd Academy Awards.

When filmmaker Craig Foster goes diving in the Great African Sea Forest off the coast of Cape Town, he stumbles upon a rare sight.

The kelp forest dampens the swell of the icy Atlantic Ocean and in one specific spot creates a clear opening. It's here, while exploring, that Craig sees what appears to be a ball of shells and stones rolling around on the sandy floor.

Intrigued, he swims a little closer with his camera in his hand when the tight ball suddenly explodes, and an octopus zooms out of the self-made shelter of objects that are now once again scattered on the seabed.

Instinctively Craig follows the octopus, which darts underneath a large piece of algae floating around in the ocean and wraps itself in this green, paper-thin cloak. Just one eye curiously peeks out.

That very day Craig would start a nearly one-year journey that would see him create one of the most unlikely of bonds – a friendship with an octopus.

A sequence of events – including burnout and a yearning for a more prolific life experience – led Craig to go diving in one of the wildest and most dangerous places.

He needed to reconnect with nature and specifically the ocean – which has been omnipresent in his life since childhood. Forgoing a wetsuit and oxygen tank, the filmmaker and photographer goes snorkelling, removing the remaining material barrier between him and Mother Nature.

In the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher, which is now available on Netflix, the viewer gets to peek into a hidden world through what feels like a secret window. Directed by Cape Town filmmaker Pippa Ehrlich and co-directed by James Reed, a proudly South African nature documentary like no other unfolds in a surprisingly emotional and suspenseful way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A scene from My Octopus Teacher. (Photo: Tom Foster)

As Craig builds trust with the octopus, the viewer too gets sucked into the magical world that lies just beneath the frothy white waves. Boundaries start to dissolve and the trust between man and animal turns into a tangible, real-life connection.

But some lines can't be crossed, and Craig can't protect his new friend from the deadly predators that roam the waters, nor the fact that the lifespan of an average octopus is only a year.

These tense dangers and the knowledge that life is short invoked in Craig a newfound awareness of nature, mortality, vulnerability and the connection between humans and our surroundings – something he carries with him back to land when he emerges from the icy waters.

He learns so much from his new friend that it starts to influence his life, and more specifically, his bond with his son. The octopus has taught him a lot, but what can he do for her?

As the story plays out, we see how the octopus invites Craig into her world, trusts him with her most vulnerable secrets and even uses him to her advantage when she goes on the hunt. She's intelligent, playful and has the incredible ability to transform into whatever she needs to survive.

But, in the murky darkness lies an undeniable danger that is waiting to pounce. Neither of them can afford to get too comfortable.

"I realise now how precious wild places are," says Craig in the film. Adding about his experience: "It's extremely liberating, and your life problems start to dissolve. You start to care about all the animals and realise each one is important.

"I fell in love with her and the wildness and learnt that we're part of this place, not just a visitor."

Craig no longer goes diving alone. He co-founded the Sea Change Project, a community of scientists, storytellers, journalists and filmmakers who are dedicated to raising awareness of the beauty and ecological importance of South Africa's kelp forest.

This is the first Netflix Original Documentary to come out of South Africa.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

Watch My Octopus Teacher on Netflix now.

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