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My Octopus Teacher: A South African nature documentary

By:

Sea Change Project
Founded in 2012, the Sea Change Project is an ocean conservation nonprofit, that includes a team of scientists, storytellers and media professionals. We tell stories that connect people to the wild, motivating them to become part of the regeneration of our planet. Our goal is to protect South Africa’s marine environment by making the Great African Seaforest a global icon. We are committed to furthering global marine conservation goals towards 30% by 2030. For more information please visit the Sea Change Project’s website www.seachangeproject.com.

Image credit: Craig Foster

An unexpected film about a man’s bond with an octopus entitled My Octopus Teacher is captivating film festivals and competition judges worldwide. It racked up eight nominations, more than any other film in this year’s lineup, for the renowned Jackson Wild Media Award, one of the most important nature film competitions on the globe. It recently won Best Feature at Earth X and is in the running for another four conservation film awards this year, including two prestigious Panda awards at the Wildscreen Festival. 

‘A real world “Charlotte’s Web” story that is filled with heart and drama and extraordinary beauty, My Octopus Teacher reminds us of the transformative power of love.’ said Lisa Samford, Executive Director of Jackson Wild.

The feature documentary is a collaboration between the Sea Change Project, an NGO raising awareness of the beauty and ecological importance of South Africa’s kelp forest, Off the Fence Productions based in the Netherlands and Netflix. This is the first Netflix Original Documentary to come out of South Africa. Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed and produced by Craig Foster, My Octopus Teacher is the culmination of a decade of hard work and dedication to showcasing The Great African Seaforest and the creatures that live in it.

 

Buffel, the southern elephant seal

Watch My Octopus Teacher on Netflix from 7 September 2020. 

Buffel, the southern elephant seal

Craig Foster underwater with cameraman (Image credit: Craig Foster)

The story is about Craig Foster, who suffering from a loss of purpose, begins a daily diving regimen in the freezing kelp forests at the tip of Africa in order to re-energize himself. Foster is an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of the Sea Change Project, and has dedicated the past nine years to diving every day in the Atlantic Ocean without a wetsuit, documenting the process of how the human body adapts to cold and studying the kelp forest ecosystem. 

What he discovers below the water’s surface is a totally alien motivation in the form of an unusually curious octopus. This beautiful record of an animal’s entire life—something seldom achieved in the wild, let alone underwater—was shot over a full year and explores the habits and personality of a strange, undulating creature that most of us have only ever eaten.

The story is about Craig Foster, who suffering from a loss of purpose, begins a daily diving regimen in the freezing kelp forests at the tip of Africa in order to re-energize himself. Foster is an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of the Sea Change Project, and has dedicated the past nine years to diving every day in the Atlantic Ocean without a wetsuit, documenting the process of how the human body adapts to cold and studying the kelp forest ecosystem. 

What he discovers below the water’s surface is a totally alien motivation in the form of an unusually curious octopus. This beautiful record of an animal’s entire life—something seldom achieved in the wild, let alone underwater—was shot over a full year and explores the habits and personality of a strange, undulating creature that most of us have only ever eaten.

Pippa Ehrlich is a South African natural history filmmaker and environmental journalist, specialising in the field of marine science and conservation. She has worked with some of the world’s top marine researchers and underwater photographers. She states: “I am hugely grateful for the nominations and overwhelmed by the responses we’ve had from viewers all over the world who have seen the film. We started this project to share our experiences of the seaforest and our love for the natural world and to receive this kind of feedback is encouraging. Having the privilege of capturing Craig’s relationship with the octopus has been a deeply fulfilling experience. It’s allowed me to imagine the world through another species’s eyes, which expands one’s perspective. As filmmakers, we see ourselves as storytellers first, but when you spend thousands of hours in an environment and you start to fall in love with it, you reach a point where just sharing stories is not enough. I hope this film inspires viewers to explore the natural world in their own way. We are incredibly fortunate to have a seaforest on our doorstep, but I believe that it’s possible to have a meaningful relationship with nature no matter where you are in the world, whether it’s with the insects in your garden, or a plant that you nurture in your apartment.”

Buffel, the southern elephant seal

Pippa Erlich, director of My Octopus Teacher (Image credit: Sea Change Project)

Buffel, the southern elephant seal

James Reed, director of My Octopus Teacher (Image credit: James Reed)

The filmmakers hope that the documentary will contribute to the global campaign to protect 30% of our oceans by 30/30. While marine protected areas are not a silver bullet, there are still so many incredible wild places on our planet, and with the right legislation in place, they will become our ecological savings accounts for the future. On a more local scale, the Sea Change Project are working towards the long-term protection of the kelp forest or “The Great African Seaforest”. Unlike more better-known habitats like The Serengeti or Great Barrier Reef, there has been very little research into the ecological and social value of the seaforest and almost no advocacy for its protection. My Octopus Teacher is part of Sea Change Project’s work to gain a deeper understanding of The Great African Seaforest and share stories that inspire people to fall in love with it.

Buffel, the southern elephant seal

Threats to the great African seaforest (Image credit: Sea Change Project)

My Octopus Teacher has been nominated in the following categories: Best Ecosystem Film, Best People and Nature Film Long Form, Best Science in Nature Film Long Form and Best Feature Film, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Audioscape.

A distinguished panel of final judges from around the globe will select the 2020 Jackson Wild Media Award Winners over the coming weeks. Winners will be announced during the Jackson Wild Media Awards held virtually for the first time in its history on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. The awards are just one element of the Jackson Wild Virtual Summit that will be hosted online from September 28 – October 1.

This is a proudly South African production with an original score by Kevin Smuts, sound design by Barry Donnelly and post-production and grade by Refinery Cape Town. 

My Octopus Teacher will launch on Netflix South Africa on 7 September. 

Watch the trailer here. 

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