Octopus film’s tentacles have touched hearts around the world, ...

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Octopus film’s tentacles have touched hearts around the world, say makers

‘The best thing of 2020’ has seen the Sea Change Trust receiving an heartfelt e-mail every three seconds

Senior features writer
The kiss that started it all: conservationist Craig Foster and his co-star in 'My Octopus Teacher'.
LOVE AFFAIR The kiss that started it all: conservationist Craig Foster and his co-star in 'My Octopus Teacher'.
Image: Craig Loubser

After months of lockdown, millions of people around the world have found they like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden or, to be exact, an octopus’s den in the “great African sea forest” off Cape Town.

The documentary, My Octopus Teacher, has become a global hit after premiering on Netflix this month, also winning awards and nominations.

Naturalist Craig Foster stars alongside an extraordinary octopus that befriends him deep in the sea forest.

From the time it aired, the Sea Change Trust — founded nearly a decade ago by Foster and fellow free diver Ross Frylinck “to raise awareness of the beauty and ecological importance of SA’s kelp forest” — has received heartfelt e-mails at the rate of one every three seconds.

“The timing was perfect and strange,” said associate producer Frylinck of the movie’s release during the Covid-19 pandemic. “This is a positive story during the extremes of lockdown and the physical disconnect people feel.”

Rave reviews called it “the 2020 love story you didn’t know you needed” and “the best thing of 2020”.

“We knew we had a very special story, but when you are so deep inside and working so hard, you don’t really know what you have,” said free diver Pippa Ehrlich, who directed the movie with James Reed.

“We tried things that have not really been done in natural-history filmmaking before: combining the natural-history story of a wild animal with the personal observations of a human and his emotional journey.

“This definitely resonated. Many people were in a state of sadness and despair with coronavirus and needed an antidote, a bit of an emotional catharsis. This is a story of hope and a story of joy, which also made them cry.”

Support for Sea Change’s mission has exploded, with followers increasing roughly tenfold on its social media platforms. “I feel like I went to sleep and woke up in a different reality,” Ehrlich said.

But what of producer Foster, whose passion for life was reinvigorated by the mysteries of the kelp forest and the intelligent cephalopod that reached out to him?

He’s taking refuge in the ocean. “Craig and I have a saying, ‘return to zero’,” said Frylinck. “We have to keep swimming and playing in the kelp forest.”

Viewers of My Octopus Teacher have told the Sea Change team it has inspired them to seek out nature with their children.

The cinematography and creatures have also sparked creativity. Children, artists and musicians have composed artworks after watching and rewatching it. It even spawned a parody, My Kreepy Teacher, by comedian Glen Biderman-Pam.

Others are interpreting the film through their own lenses, from vegans and tantric practitioners to feminists and Christians.

My Octopus Teacher has already contributed to Sea Change’s mission,” said Ehrlich, “opening huge doors for us on a global scale and made the world aware of underwater forests. We want the great African sea forest to be protected like the Great Barrier Reef.”