We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Producer Craig Foster: I have been diving in the kelp forest everyday for almost a decade now. I started because I was going through a very difficult time, but it became this incredible source of energy and inspiration. After almost 5 years I met a very unusual young octopus. I went back to visit her everyday for months and eventually the animal trusted me and allowed me to enter her secret world. I began to see her as my teacher because through her I learned to track underwater and discovered many animal behaviours and even species that were new to science. She also taught me about her many prey and predators and the inner life of the Great African Seaforest. I witnessed most of her life and managed to capture some of it on camera. For a time, she was the major focus of my life - I fell in love with her. I still regard that year with her as the greatest privilege of my life. When Pippa and I started going through the footage we realised we had something very special: a very personal, emotional story about an unusual animal/human relationship, but also the entire life story of an individual marine creature in the wild.
Were there any surprising or meaningful experiences you want to share?
CF: Any time you go into nature without a specific agenda, you find something meaningful and surprising. I spent hours and hours in the water with the octopus, but at the time I never had any intention of making a film, so everything I saw and learnt was a surprise and my understanding of the kelp forest expanded enormously because of that. At first I saw the Seaforest as thousands of separate creatures surviving and thriving. But over time, and especially when I was with her, I started to sense the entire Seaforest as a single living entity - a giant ecological intelligence. When you start to feel that and you start to feel that you are part of it, your relationship to the natural world changes on a physical and emotional level. I was always aware that we are damaging the ocean, but now it feels much more personal. By hurting nature we are hurting ourselves.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
Director Pippa Ehrlich: As filmmakers, we see ourselves as storytellers first, but when you spend thousands of hours in an environment and you start to fall in love with it, you reach a point where just sharing stories is not enough. I hope this film impacts viewers on two levels: first I hope it inspires them to explore the natural world in their own way. We are incredibly fortunate to have a seaforest on our doorstep, but I believe that it's possible to have a meaningful relationship with nature no matter where you are in the world, whether it’s with the insects in your garden, or a plant that you nurture in your apartment. Craig spent so much time with the Octopus that he got a glimpse of how she experienced life. It’s hard to articulate but there is something deeply fulfilling and reassuring about imagining the world through another species’s eyes. It expands your perspective.
Secondly, we hope that our film has a tangible impact on ocean conservation and would like to be part of the global campaign to protect 30% of our oceans by 30/30. We know that marine protected areas are not a silver bullet, but there are still so many incredible wild places on our planet, if we can at least get the right legislation in place, they will become our ecological savings accounts for the future. On a more local scale, we are working towards having the kelp forest or “The Great African Seaforest” declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Describe some of the challenges faced.
PE: I have spent much of my career as a journalist, telling other people’s stories. In order to make this film, I needed to understand Craig’s experiences directly. Before we even started developing the script, I spent 6 months diving everyday to adapt my body to the cold and get confident enough to swim in big swell - not to mention that fact that this is one of the sharkiest bays on the planet.
I also spent hours watching all of the different animals in the kelp forest and learning where to find them and how to approach them. One of the biggest challenges was learning how to find an octopus and it took months before I could recognise their tracks - even with Craig’s guidance. Those were very enjoyable challenges to overcome.
The more difficult challenge was that in the beginning, this project was entirely self-funded. We knew we had an amazing story, but we also knew it would take a long time to get the cut right. We were taking a big risk and weren’t sure if we would ever be able to finish it. Fortunately, we had the support of Off the Fence. They really believed in the project and without them, we could never have got it to this point.
What drove you as a filmmaker?
CF: I have made a lot of films, but I have never told my own story before. There is something very powerful but also scary about doing that. My mother dived on the day I was born and I was put in the Atlantic Ocean when I was two days old. I started skin diving at 3, so my relationship with the Seaforest is one of the most precious things in my life. She has become my underwater home and I can’t imagine life without her. I wanted to share my experience with the Octopus and make a beautiful film, but more than that I wanted to honour this incredible environment because it has given me so much. My greatest wish is that this film can somehow inspire people to protect the Seaforest and the ocean that feeds it.