Last night, the highly acclaimed documentary My Octopus Teacher won the Oscar for best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.
To celebrate the Oscar win, free streaming platform WaterBear has launched today 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. 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 behind the scenes interview is the fifth episode of WaterBear’s podcast-style interview series ‘The Bear Hug’.
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 Foster on this touching film inspired Ellen Windemuth to start the WaterBear Network, a free, groundbreaking streaming platform showcasing award-winning documentaries as well as original content inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Launched in December 2020 with the support of The Duke of Sussex, actress and activist Maisie Williams and model and activist Lily Cole, Waterbear is now available in 40 countries including the UK, US and Canada.
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, executive produced by Ellen Windemuth and produced by Craig Foster, My Octopus Teacher is the culmination of a decade of hard work and dedication to this special story.
Craig Foster on his friendship with Ellen Windemuth: I think there’s a deep trust between us that goes beyond even friendship, beyond any working relationship. 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.
Ellen Windemuth on the origins of My Octopus Teacher: It started with an art exhibit that Craig did with his friend Ross Freeling, and they had this 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.
Craig Foster on his experience making My Octopus Teacher: You know, I’ve been diving every day for years at that point. 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.
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