CHENNAI: One of the first questions that will strike you when watching Netflix’s “My Octopus Teacher,” recently nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category at the upcoming Oscars, is: Can this animal really become a man’s best friend?
Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the feature-length documentary follows South African filmmaker and conservationist Craig Foster as he forms a sort of friendship with the most unexpected of sea creatures — an octopus. The filmmakers manage to make this creature so disarmingly human that if viewers had even the remotest feeling of revulsion over its slimy, marbled eight limbs, it disappears early in the runtime of 85 minutes.
A passionate diver whose adventures began in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean early in his life, Foster encountered an octopus and there appears to have been an instant attraction – from his side to begin with. As the movie rolls on, it gathers a kind of emotional quality rarely seen in underwater documentary storytelling. We have all had dogs and cats as great friends, even rabbits and birds, but the Craig-octopus connection is as fascinating as the richness of life in the deepest of depths. The colors, shapes and variety of sea creatures shown in the film are mind-blowing. And at this juncture of our civilization, when we realize man’s cruelty to nature by way of deforestation and marine pollution, the documentary is elevating and evocative. Here is one man who understands the value of life in the manner by which he spends a long time trying to befriend an octopus — and it makes for breathtaking viewing.
Foster has been working the undersea beat for two decades since he made his 2000 documentary “The Great Dance.” His exploration near his home of Cape Town, with help of eco-journalist Ehrlich and Nature documentary producer Reed, has been brilliantly photographed by the underwater expert Roger Horrocks (whose credits include amazing visuals in the BBC’s “Our Planet” and “Blue Planet II”).
What is more, there is drama in here. The octopus, a female, lives in constant fear, not of Craig but of beetle-juice-striped pyjama sharks. We also watch as the animal displays its cunning intelligence, which include crafty ways seeking out food. But what remains etched in our memory long after the final credits is Craig’s tenderness toward the octopus, it’s truly heart-warming to watch.
Netflix has been known to produce superb documentaries, but “My Octopus Teacher” is really high up there.