Finally found a word to share about Netflix documentary MY OCTOPUS TEACHER.

Professionally burnt out, documentary director and cinematographer Craig Foster dives into the Atlantic near his coastal hometown in South Africa and leaves the terrestrial world behind as he descends into the kelp forest. The underwater world had been his childhood refuge, and he’s returned in search of a meditative space, a place where he can reconnect with himself and with the world around him.

A freediver, Foster conducts his underwater exploration without equipment, holding his breath for extended lengths of time. His tolerance to cold waters allows him to navigate the kelp forest without a wet suit. He’s unencumbered and unsheathed in a realm of nature that feels like home to him. Going in without a wet suit heightens his sense of merging with the ocean, and relying on his honed ability to hold his breath frees him further.

Foster does bring his camera, though. He captures the moment in which he encounters a young octopus. The next time he visits, he finds her again. The time after that, too. She’s consistently, reliably there, and Foster is fascinated. He commits to visiting her world every day to spend time with her, which he does for an entire year.

In meeting the octopus, Foster found inspiration to work with his camera again. He wanted to observe and get to know her. He captured hundreds more moments with her.

What came of it was a precious bond and this stunningly beautiful documentary: My Octopus Teacher.

 

 

These days, my own sense of being in love with life is heightened, too, and the slightest moments move me to tears of gratitude… and always, in any medium, I cry while taking in storytelling involving animals. Quite naturally, then, several tissues were required as I watched this film.

My Octopus Teacher is an emotional drawing-in of a film, unlike any other nature documentary I’ve seen. To witness a bond of trust grow between this enchanting underwater being and Craig Foster is to know even more profoundly the sentience and innocence of animals. To move with Foster through the kelp forest with its glorious population of sea creatures is to realize on a more personal level, somehow, that there’s an unfathomably vast world in the oceans and seas, a richer world than our own.

When Foster first visits her den, the octopus is tentative, but the intellectual curiosity ingrained in her prevails over her trepidation. A relationship begins to form. After a while, she’s confident that he won’t hurt her, and she goes about her daily routine unworried by his presence as he observes. We’re then able to discover her personality: she’s captivating in her expressiveness, and she’s exceedingly smart. She’s intrepid, affectionate, and playful. Innovative by nature, she displays creative survival skills that leave Foster – and we viewers – in awe. She’s well-informed, as each of her many suction cups has an intelligence, her suction cups like little brains lining her eight arms.

At one point in the film, we’re privy to a moment between Foster and the octopus. We can see how very small and vulnerable she is, and the extent to which she’s come to trust and love him.

My Octopus Teacher is a soothing meditation of a film with shimmering facets of drama, thriller, and horror. All at once, it’s gentle and sweet and exhilarating and fraught with the harrowing realities of octopus life.

 

 

Foster fell in love with the little octopus, and so did I, along with probably everyone who’s watched the film. I was rather a mess by the end of it, but in the best of ways.

My Octopus Teacher is a nature documentary that tells a powerfully human story. Foster’s goal was to reconnect with himself and with the world, and the octopus helped him with that. She drew him out of his own den in which he’d been stuck. She left him with invaluable insight and epiphanies that translated seamlessly into his relationships with others, and with the world as a whole. The bond that she cultivated with him strengthened his bond with his son.

Please don’t miss this film. Its gorgeous cinematography and mellow narration make for a healing balm that we all can use, and its story imparts lessons that we all can learn. Bravo to Craig Foster, the filmmakers and producers, Netflix, and to the little octopus, herself, for bringing us My Octopus Teacher.

~~~~~

[Correction: I’d originally written “tentacles” where I was referring to suction cups. I realized it when I re-read the post just now. Middle-of-the-night-oversight corrected.]

 

“Beasts of No Nation” and The Oscars should have collided, but they did not, and I can’t believe it.

As the dust settled at the end of this crazy week at work, I finally got to sit down and look at the list of nominees for Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards.

I’m happy with some of the big nominations. Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant  were two of my favorite films of the year (of the Best Picture nominees, I hope Mad Max wins). I also enjoyed Bridge of Spies, Creed, and The Big Short. 

I hope Amy  wins for Best Documentary Feature.

I wish that Ex Machina got nominated for something more than a small award.

Moving on to OUTRIGHT SNUBS, Straight Outta Compton, another of my favorite films of 2015, deserved a Best Picture nomination, in my opinion. I also believe that Straight Outta Compton is worthy of a Best Director nomination, and why Jason Mitchell didn’t get nominated for Best Supporting Actor as Eazy-E is beyond me.

But the main questions in my head as I read the list of Oscar nominees were:

1). Why wasn’t Idris Elba nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Beasts of No Nation?

2).  Why wasn’t Abraham Attah nominated for Best Actor for Beasts of No Nation?

3). Why wasn’t Beasts of No Nation nominated for Best Picture?

4). Why wasn’t Cary Joji Fukunaga nominated for Best Director for Beasts of No Nation?

5). Why wasn’t Beasts of No Nation nominated for Best Costume Design?

 

Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation.

Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation.

 

6). Why wasn’t Beasts of No Nation nominated for Best Cinematography?

7). Why wasn’t Beasts of No Nation nominated for Best Original Score?

 

 

(“A Song for Strika”)

At least Straight Outta Compton received a nomination for Best Writing – Original Screenplay. Beasts of No Nation received ZERO Oscar nominations. It was completely left out of the competition, and I’m incredulous. Who, exactly, is responsible for deciding what constitutes art in cinema?

Idris Elba’s searing performance as Commandant should be recognized. And young Abraham Attah? His performance as Agu hurt my heart so profoundly, I’m unable to shake the memory of it, or the pain I felt when I witnessed it.

That’s how Beasts of No Nation made me feel: Like a witness. Not a movie-goer, an audience member, an entertainment seeker. A witness. That is what good art can do. It can put us in the picture, in the moment, make us see and feel things we don’t necessarily want to see or feel; it can unflinchingly cast light on the abominable, because we need to see it. We need to acknowledge it.

A part of the brilliance of Beasts of No Nation is that somehow, overall, it manages to be poetic. Maybe at the end I was too emotionally spent to see it, but thinking back on it now that I’ve processed the film as a whole, the imagery in that last scene was poetry… and it was beautiful.

My personal feelings aside, Beasts of No Nation is next-level outstanding in every respect of film-making, and for it to have been excluded from the Academy Awards is a gross oversight. A colossal oversight. I would go so far as to say that it seems like a deliberate oversight, because anyone with eyes and a heart can see that it’s a masterpiece, and the movie-nominating people have eyes and hearts, do they not?

Idris Elba’s and Abraham Attah’s performances are performances that deserve Academy Award recognition.

Beasts of No Nation is difficult to watch, for sure, as I’ve said before. But art’s intention isn’t solely to entertain us. Good art in all of its genres makes us feel things, including real despair for real-life realities.

How is it that The Martian received a nomination for Best Picture, while Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton did not?

Two of my favorite movies of the year – both of which I thought were objectively stellar – were snubbed, and I can’t fathom why. I could go on and on about Beasts of No Nation, but there’s no need. I wrote a lot more about it after I saw it, so click here if you’re interested in reading that.

I’m actually so disappointed about the omissions on the list of Oscar nominees that I’m not even sure I want to watch the Academy Awards this year.

It was King James in the Locker Room with the Football

Happy Birthday to Callaghan! We would have celebrated all weekend, but he came down with a case of food poisoning that knocked him on his behind pretty good, the poor guy. We canceled everything and holed up here at home. It’s a relief to see him feeling better again. Food poisoning, ugh.

One thing about Callaghan: he has a unique gift for enriching my life and keeping me on my toes with his often random, always unpredictable, documentary-inspired thought ramblings (of the likes I haven’t shared with you in a while).

Here’s one from recent days… he was in his studio, listening to a documentary about the history of the British monarchy, and I’d just wandered into the room:

“I don’t understand about the NFL,” he said in his usual out-of-the-blue way. “Don’t you think that, knowing the percentage of the population that’s gay, it’s weird that anyone would be shocked that some footballers are gay?”

“Football players,” I said.

“What?”

“Football players play in the NFL. Footballers play soccer. And I agree… it’s beyond me why anyone would care whether football players are gay or straight.”

We’ve had variations of this conversation before.

But I was perplexed, as I often am at these moments of interaction with Callaghan.

“What led you to think of gay football players in the NFL?” I wondered out loud. “You’re listening to a documentary about the British monarchy…”

“OH, I don’t know, I guess I was thinking about it before because of that one guy… wait, oh yeah, it IS because of the documentary! It’s because of King James the First.”

“The documentary said that King James was gay?” I didn’t bother asking whether the documentary said that King James was in the NFL, as I’d already arrived at the conclusion that he wasn’t via my keen powers of deduction.

“No, the documentary didn’t say he was gay.”

“Then why…”

“Well, yeah, King James was married, but he didn’t really care for girls… he wasn’t famous for having affairs like the other kings were. I guess that was my train of thought. And then I thought about them in the locker rooms,” he explained.

“Locker rooms?”

“…and they did say that he preferred male company. They didn’t actually say he was gay, though. But yeah, that’s what got me thinking about football players.”

That clears up that mystery!

 

King James I

King James I

 

And now that it’s Callaghan’s birthday, we can go back to being consecutive ages again rather than appearing to be two years apart. (He enjoys saying that I’m a cougar, but being older than him by 14 months does not a cougar make.)

The Hen is Mightier Than the Sword

“I’m listening to this show, and the music is Harry Potter,” Callaghan just announced, ever diligent in reporting critical documentary details. He tells me these things absent-mindedly over his shoulder while he’s working and I’m sitting at my desk doing whatever. Since there’s no door between the main room (his desk) and the bedroom (my desk), we’re always in sight of each other. In fact, there are barely a few steps between us. That’s how small our house is. Very convenient for talking to each other. And for strangling each other, as the situation demands.

But I digress. My porcelain hen is sitting here next to me, and I wanted to tell you about it.

I noticed the hen (which turned out to be a bank) one night while walking with Callaghan down a small street in Nice; it was sitting in a shop window. I had no prior interest in hens, so I was maybe as surprised as he was when I went back the next day and bought it and unveiled it before his very eyes. For one thing, he couldn’t believe I’d found the shop again “against all odds,” since it was already dark when we strolled past it, and I didn’t even know where we were. (I couldn’t believe I’d found the shop again, either, since I’m directionally challenged and have been known to get lost on grounds I’ve stomped for 20 years. How I managed to navigate myself out of the woods with only a compass when I was in the Army remains a mystery.)

But I found the shop, and the hen was there, black with red flowers, and I couldn’t resist. This is what happens when you have too much time on your hands in Nice.

Hen

Hen

Since then, I’ve graciously taken it upon myself to be the hen’s guardian. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of obsessed. Every time I pay with cash, Callaghan looks over and says something along the lines of, “Hmm… you’re using paper money so you’ll get coins back. For the hen.” Or we’ll be at la boulangerie getting sandwiches and I’ll take out a 10 and he’ll be like, “Why are you paying with that when you have the exact amount in coins? Oh. Yeah.” It’s almost a joke between us, but it’s actually thrilling to me, coming from the States where real money doesn’t exist in coin form. Here in Europe, there are one and two-euro coins, so if you stick them in a piggy (hen) bank, they add up quickly. We come home from the store and I rush to the hen to deposit my high-value coins, and after four months, there’s already 124 euro in the hen! This cannot happen as easily with dollars in the States. It’s almost as fun as watching an hourglass.

Callaghan doesn’t seem to share my glee, but he will. It’s one of those he’ll thank me later things.

“So your idea of managing household finances is the hen,” he says to me one day.

“Yes. It’s for emergencies.”

“Okay, then let’s use the hen to stock up on water, in case the pipes freeze like they did last winter.”

“No… the hen is for real emergencies.”

“What kind of emergency are you talking about?”

“Laundry.”

“Laundry.”

“If the pipes do freeze again, we’ll need to use the hen to do our laundry at la laverie. We’ll need coins.”

“By then we’d be dead of thirst.”

“Parking, too.”

“Parking? How do you figure that’s an emergency?”

“We might need to pay for parking when we go to la laverie to do our emergency laundry.”

“Uhh….”

“I’m not kidding.”

“What is it about you and lau… oh, never mind.”

Okay. Maybe he has a point. But isn’t it true, in fact, that we used the hen for laundry once already? Last month, when we’d finally spilled enough coffee in bed and we wanted to wash our two large comforters before the coffee stains merged into one huge brown splotch and we needed super industrial-capacity washing machines to do the job? “See?” I’d said to Callaghan. I was trying not to gloat. “If it wasn’t for the hen, we wouldn’t be able to wash these comforters. We wouldn’t be able to park at la laverie, either.”

He couldn’t really argue with that. All he said was, “You’re right. The hen is powerful because it can do the laundry.”