My Octopus Teacher Wins Best Documentary Oscar
The documentary that catapulted undersea magic into our living rooms won Best Documentary at the 93rd Academy Awards.
The film debuted on Netflix in September 2020 to broad international acclaim, racking up a slew of awards in the run up to the Oscars, including the Best Documentary BAFTA, Best Cinematography at the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, and Best Music Score from the International Documentary Association.
It transcended the traditional audience for undersea documentaries, fixating the general public and drawing praise from a broad spread of public figures. Jane Gooddall called the film “one of the best documentaries of all time" while Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa wrote: “The documentary is storytelling at its best, with a deeply resonant conservation message" in a letter to the production team in the run up to the awards.
My Octopus Teacher won the title over Time, Collective, Crip Camp and The Mole Agent.
Filmmaker Craig Foster, who stars in the documentary alongside the titular octopus, freedove the same patch of the Great African Seaforest daily for more than a year. What started as a way to recuperate from burnout gives way to nurturing a connection with nature, revealing there was no distinction between humanity and nature in the first place.
“She taught him all sorts of things that he was desperately trying to understand about acceptance and trust, about where we fit in the natural world,” director Pippa Elrich told Radio New Zealand shortly after the film’s release. “I think one of the biggest things that he learnt was that there are really no ‘others’, because every creature that lives on Earth is relatable to us on some level.”
The entire film was recorded freediving with no wetsuits, despite the incredibly chilly waters off the coast of South Africa. Elrich, who joined the project after the octopus had already passed away, spent months sifting through Foster’s footage and learning how to go without a wetsuit while freediving to round out the shot list for the film. A longtime conservation journalist, My Octopus Teacher is her first feature-length film. James Reed is her co-director, while Roger Horrocks directed cinematography. Tom Foster, Craig Foster’s son, captured the film’s drone footage. Horrocks and Craig Foster previously collaborated on footage in the same location used in episode five of the BBC’s Blue Planet II. Dr. Jannes Landschoff and ‘octopus psychologist’ Professor Jennifer Mather were scientific consultants.
The 93-minute film is backed in part by the nonprofit Sea Change Project, launched by Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck, which aims to protect the Great African Seaforest.