The Oscars never dissapoint. Year in and year out, Hollywood’s A-list stars gather for an evening filled with glitz and glamour while the best of the best get noticed for their efforts and announced in front of their peers to receive some of the best awards Hollywood has to offer.
2020 is a year many would want to forget, but it is a year many film loving people of Africa will want to remember as one of the continent’s proudest nations managed to bring home one of the most coveted awards in film.
My Octopus Teacher, a documentary film following Craig Foster, a documentary filmmaker and conservationist as he establishes and develops a relationship with none other than an Octopus off of South Africa’s False Bay coast.
The film, directed by Pippa Ehrlich, and James Reed, picked up the award for best documentary feature at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards. It was the first South African documentary to win an academy award, filling many citizens of South Africa with an overflowing level of pride.
The film begins with documenting Foster’s endeavour into freediving in a cold underwater kelp forest near Simon’s Town off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa’s most southerly region. He began documenting his experiences, and over time met a curious octopus that struck his attention.
Foster decided to keep visiting the octopus in an attempt to win the animal’s trust, and tracks her movements, and eventually, the octopus accepts him. She begins to play with him, and shows him into her world where she allows him to see where she lives, eats and sleeps.
Foster follows the octopus for almost a year and in that time, the interspecies friendship between the two beings grows more intimate. The film documents the Octopus’ resilience as she overcomes an attack from a pyjama shark. She is forced to return to her den, where it takes three months for a bitten off arm to regenerate.
The film shows an incredible development in the Octopus itself, as she later endures another shark attack, this time showing a greater level of creativity and resolve to get through the attack unscathed.
After mating with a male octopus and producing a large number of eggs, the now well documented female octopus passes away naturally, while tending to her unborn young.
The film is critically acclaimed for the fact that it traverses two popular themes that are well documented in documentary film in this day and age. Nature-related documentaries have always been immensely popular, with names such as David Attenborough putting the genre on the map, and social documentaries too have recently seen a rise in global attention, but rarely do we see documentary films encompass these two genres at once.
Foster’s relationship with the Octopus teaches him much about his own life, and rewires his perspective on the fragility of life, and further pushes him to strive for a deeper connection with his son who is pursuing a path as a diver and marine life student.
The selection shocked many in South Africa, especially betting sites, who are now kicking themselves for not releasing odds for this award category. Betting sites in the country had released plenty of odds for other categories, but not the one that turned out to be most important.
The connection that was established in the film between man and animal came at a time when the world was in lockdown, catering to a fundamental human need that many, many human beings were craving at the time.