My Octopus Teacher

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If ever an underwater adventure doc cried out for IMAX 3D, it’s this, but for now, let’s be thankful that we had a chance to visit this kingdom of strange and exotic animals. The emphasis here is on the vulnerability of life. Craig Foster is a South African documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the Sea Change Project. You’ve heard of Spider-Man’s arch foe, Doc Ock? How about an oc-doc, possessed of such humanity and awareness that it turns out to be the definitive (only?) film on the subject? An octopus is an anti-social animal that spends most of its life trying not to be seen, a trait that makes this documentary an even more astounding achievement. There is no way that Foster and the writing-directing team of Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed could have set out to tell this story. By their nature, films of this kind are shoot-now-figure-it-out-later affairs that rely greatly on patience, persistence, and luck; hide a camera, let it run, and hope that something of interest will float past the lens. Perhaps it’s the filmmakers’ shared ability to think like mollusks, but I’ll be damned if this octopus doesn’t take direction. So does Foster. When faced with intervening and potentially saving the animal from the jaws of angling Pyjama Sharks, Foster refuses to risk interfering with “the whole process of the underwater forest.” Difficult though it might be, the filmmakers never attribute anthropomorphic qualities to their subaqueous superstar. Were this a Disney doc, our eponymous instructor would not only have been fitted with a cute name (Inky, Sticker, Calamari), there would be plush toy octopi for sale at the concession stand. (2020) — Scott Marks

Rated G | 1 hour, 25 minutes
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