Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
South Africa, 2020. A Netflix Original Documentary, Off The Fence, The Sea Change Project. Screenplay by Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed. Cinematography by Roger Horrocks. Produced by Craig Foster. Music by Kevin Smuts. Film Editing by Pippa Ehrlich, Dan Schwalm.
Filmmaker and photojournalist Craig Foster spent years traveling the world capturing unforgettable images, living a life of non-stop adventure that eventually saw him burn out from fatigue and, it is insinuated, his weariness was both mental and physical. Staying put in his South African coastal home, he spends every day scuba diving and comes across an octopus in an underwater kelp forest that he takes a liking to. Returning to the water every day he notices the same creature in the same place and eventually the two form a bond, becoming friends who share the odd hug or frolic in the water, the animal’s pure connection with him helping restore Foster to a resemblance of his old self. Making friends with a member of a cyclical food chain has its downsides of course, which our narrator witnesses when the sweet little ock loses one of her eight arms to a pyjama shark before later barely outrunning a predator who wants to have her for lunch. Foster celebrates the magic of this creature, her methods of consuming food, her different manners of movement (such as walking on one tentacle) and skilled ability to hide, his increased connection with his invertebrate buddy running parallel with his rejuvenated relationship with his son. Eventually, nature does what it must and the lady octopus meets a gentleman with whom she mates, and as octopi are semelparous animals (look it up if you want the spoiler), we must naturally come to a sad parting between friends. Not that you’ll have any confusion about how to feel about what you see, as directors James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich are light on personal details and heavy on emotional manipulation in this dazzling but rootless documentary, pounding out a blaring musical score at every possible opportunity and, in doing so, sacrificing wonder in favour of quickly edited dazzle. The respect they show Foster (who is credited as producer) by not probing into the details of his illness, and the little that they show of this regenerated relationship with his son, does rob the experience of some level of context, just how much he needs the love of an uncomplicated (yet admittedly brilliant) octopus can’t be gauged without knowing more about what brought him to this stage in his life; instead of emotional payoff we have to glean the substance of the plot from the awwwws we utter every time he grabs the sweet little mound of jelly and holds it in his arms. As an escape from the everyday modern world, however, the images are magical, taking us under the sea and showing the beauty and colour of the octopus’s world in its adventurous and incident-rich life, and while it’s a shallow experience (no pun intended), it’s highly recommend viewing for the whole family.
Academy Awards: Best Documentary Feature