The film details the friendship between a man and an octopus off South Africa’s coast.
When talking about animal rights, sometimes there’s no need for words. This is evidenced in the Netflix film “My Octopus Teacher.” Marking the second year in a row Netflix nabs an Oscar victory for Best Documentary, the film details filmmaker Craig Foster’s yearlong underwater friendship with an octopus in the Great African Seaforest.
Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the Oscar is a rare win for African filmmakers (Ehrlich) and an even rarer win for animal rights.
While not overt in making its case for animal rights like the 2009 Oscar winner “The Cove,” which detailed the brutal dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan, “My Octopus Teacher” speaks intimately to animal sentience and the need to protect wildlife.
Foster documented the intelligence of his cephalopod friend in her skilled hiding and unique ways of defending herself; he showcases her decision-making and wit. But we also see her bonding with Foster in undeniable ways—reaching out to touch him with her tentacles, jumping into his arms as a dog or cat might.
“In many ways this really is a tiny, personal story that played out in a seaforest at the very tip of Africa,” Ehrlich noted in her acceptance speech, “but on a more universal level I hope that it provided a glimpse of a different kind of relationship between human beings and the natural world.”
Solace in the Sea
Foster was driven to explore the Seaforest as a way to reconnect with nature; he never went there in expectation of forging a friendship with an octopus. It was his own personal struggles that sent him to find himself underwater. He says his relationship with the octopus helped him reconnect with humans in his life as well.
“She was really teaching me to become sensitized to the other, especially wild creatures,” he said in the film.
The film also detailed the need for ocean conservation, a theme also at the heart of the much-talked-about Netflix documentary, “Seaspiracy”.
The win comes as the world spent the last year in isolation, emphasizing the value in connection with others—human or otherwise. It may be what led the film to victory over other nominees like “Crip Camp” and “Time,” which won pre-Oscar awards.
“If a man can form a friendship with an octopus,” Reed said accepting the Oscar, “it makes you wonder what else is possible.”
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