The proudly South African Oscar won by ’My Octopus Teacher’ for Best Documentary Film on Monday morning has laid the foundation for an unprecedented increase in ocean awareness.
The film, which has won more than 20 international awards, including Best Documentary at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) and Producers Guild of America Awards, becomes the first nature documentary to win an Academy Award since The Cove in 2010.
Co-director Pippa Ehrlich, who accepted the iconic gold statuette at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles with co directing colleague James Reed, said she was “utterly overwhelmed” with “an honour we never dreamed possible”.
“In many ways this really is a tiny personal story that played out in seaforest at the very tip of Africa, but on a more universal level I hope that it provided a glimpse of a different type of relationship between human beings and the natural world.”
In a personal letter before the ceremony, President Cyril Ramaphosa congratulated the production team of the film saying it was “documentary storytelling at its best, with a deeply resonant conservation message”.
“’My Octopus Teacher’ does not use disturbing images of the degradation of the ocean or her creatures, but gently lures the audience into a deep sense of wonder and compassion for the magical and bio diverse world of the Great African Seaforest, where underwater tracker Craig Foster builds a profound relationship with a common octopus while diving near his home in False Bay.
The film last year became the first South African documentary to become a Netflix Original.
It was released to instant acclaim during the global Covid-19 lockdown, which Ehrlich acknowledges as partly serendipitous to the film’s stellar rise in popularity: “In a difficult year, where many of us were stuck inside, feeling afraid and confused, a positive story that transports you to a magical world has a powerful appeal.”
“Parts of this story are universal to almost every person on Earth love and friendship, and connection and hope,” Ehrlich says. “It’s about nature, but it’s also a very powerful, archetypal story that helps us make sense of the world.”
Foster, a documentary filmmaker for 28 years, says the Oscar victory brings life affirming kudos to the media advocacy work by the film’s producing entity the Sea Change Project, which he co-founded with My Octopus Teacher Associate Producer Ross Frylinck in 2012.
WATCH: Craig Foster’s response to winning an Oscar
“The Academy Award elevates the Great African Seaforest and surrounding ocean of South Africa into global iconic status. This is excellent news for us, because it underlines what we have been aiming for: to show the world that we are sitting on a biodiversity treasure trove that is deeply worthy of protection.”
“What has been most exciting for us as an organisation has been the feedback. We have received thousands of messages from people around the world. Many have started diving, studying marine sciences or using ’My Octopus Teacher’ as a tool in mental health workshops, and in discussions around emotional ecology and deep nature connection. We wanted to showcase this wonderful ecosystem, the Great African Seaforest, to the world, and we have succeeded.”