After the highly acclaimed documentary My Octopus Teacher won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, the free streaming platform WaterBear launched an exclusive interview with the film’s Oscar-winning Executive Producer Ellen Windemuth and acclaimed environmentalist Craig Foster, unveiling the untold story of My Octopus Teacher.
My Octopus Teacher is a collaboration between production company Off the Fence, Netflix and the Sea Change Project, an NGO raising awareness of the beauty and ecological importance of South Africa’s kelp forest. Directed by Pippa Ehrlic and James Reed, My Octopus Teacher is the culmination of a decade of hard work and dedication to this special story.
In the interview, Craig and Ellen reflect on their 20 years of friendship – from how they met to the projects they worked on together, culminating with the creation of My Octopus Teacher.
The overwhelmingly positive response to My Octopus Teacher from audiences worldwide brought to light the growing movement of “emotional ecology” where people feel a meaningful connection to wild places and the animals that live in them. Working with Craig on this touching film inspired Ellen to start the WaterBear Network – a streaming platform showcasing award-winning documentaries as well as original content inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“I think there’s a deep trust between us that goes beyond even friendship, beyond any working relationship,” Craig says of Ellen. “It’s just a knowing, you know, it feels like Ellen’s part of my extended family, type of thing. And, you know, she’s always had my back and I’ve happily had hers. And we’ve been through extremely powerful, incredible, uplifting times and difficult times together.”
Meanwhile, Ellen said that the origins of My Octopus Teacher started with an art exhibit that Craig did with his friend Ross Freeling.
“They had these incredible panels of most beautiful photographs of the bottom of the kelp forest floor… And out came this beautiful book. We started speaking about the little snippets of film Craig was making at the time, and they were absolutely pristine. And I said at the time, there’s no broadcaster on Earth who could broadcast this, but I would broadcast this if I had a network that could do it. And we shared my idea about the WaterBear Network, where special things, small things that are really, really significant that people miss need to be somewhere… And then came this big event, which is when Craig called me and said, ‘I just met a baby octopus, it’s mind blowing'”.
At that point Craig says he had been diving almost every day.
“Quite undisturbed by the outside world in many ways. And I was very excited to be able to track underwater and I was getting very close to a lot of different species. So that was a tremendous, transformative time. And I had this sense that I could really get into the secret world of these animals in a way that I only dreamed of perhaps being able to do a little bit before.”
After discovering this ‘secret world’ in the Cape Kelp Forest, My Octopus Teacher was born.
Craig also says that they were initially worried that nobody would watch the film. Now it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% and two major awards – an Oscar and the Bafta for Best Documentary.
“It was a shock [the the documentary did as good as it did], but very powerful,” Craig explains.
You can watch the full interview on WaterBear: