NEIGHBORHOOD BY THE SEA – A man who befriends an octopus. This is the startling story of My Octopus Teacher, the documentary that can be viewed via the Netflix video on demand service. Remarkable: The film, seen by millions of people and awarded in many countries, was conceived and made possible in part by Ellen Windemuth of Wijk aan Zee. Part of the nature film was edited in his house under the smoke of Tata Steel.
No screenwriter was involved My octopus teacher. History has been written. After a period of hard work, often under difficult circumstances and in dangerous situations, South African cameraman and director Craig Foster suffered from depression. “Filming crocodiles in a cave is not easy,” says producer Ellen Windemuth, a good friend and colleague of Foster.
Foster notices that swimming in the cold sea water off Cape Town has an invigorating effect on him. In the kelp forest, an underwater forest with trees several meters high, he discovers a curious young octopus during one of his swimming trips, with which he develops a relationship over time. Foster maintains the group by searching daily for the octopus, first without, then with a camera.
“It’s not a movie you write a screenplay for, this movie happens to you”
When Foster Windemuth talks about his experiences, the Wijk aan Zeese are immediately enthusiastic. “The fact that the octopus bonded to him, trusted him, swims with Craig and cuddled up to his suckers, made a big impression on me. It’s not a movie you make, but it happens to you. A unique experience for the whole team. I knew Craig never wanted to make a movie again after his burnout, but when he met the octopus that changed – we followed him on his swimming trips with two camera buddies. The result of swimming for a year led to an amazing visual report in which the octopus survives an attack by haai pajamas, among other things.
Windemuth, who runs Off The Fence Productions, realizes that she has “the gold” in her hands. Still have Disneychannel, National Geographic and Discovery Channel their reservations about a documentary in which a man’s friendship with an octopus is central. It’s something different from a cuddly animal like a dolphin, panda, or chimpanzee. “They didn’t think there would be a lot of ads. As the creator of outdoor films I’ve had this reaction before, so I wasn’t very surprised.
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Netflix sees the success that it would actually be some time later. How strange it can be: it’s the eight-year-old son of a top-end subscriber channel that opens his mother’s eyes. During a flight, the boy cannot stop watching a rough cut of the documentary. His mother is “om”. The film is produced with the help of external financiers.
Wildemuth is not allowed to say anything about the performance and the numbers. In his opinion, this is also secondary to appreciation. In the United States, but also in Spain and China wins My octopus teacher awards at film festivals. But the main benefit is that part of the proceeds will be used to conserve the South African coastline and the kelp forest off the South African coast, among others.
“I no longer wanted to expose myself and my family to the poor air quality in Wijk aan Zee”
For her, the value of the documentary also lies in awareness. “We show that animals and humans can continue to live together if we take the environment seriously. Unfortunately, health and the environment are low on the priority list of many countries.”
In the Netherlands, she experienced it as a resident of Wijk aan Zee. Due to the poor air quality, which in her case led to stress and persistent headaches, she has since moved to Bergen. But with her Sichting IJmondig, she continues to fight against the emissions of Tata Steel, from which the inhabitants of Wijk aan Zee especially suffer.
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“I didn’t want to expose myself and my family to air pollution anymore. It literally made me sick. It seemed more reasonable to me to act from Bergen against Tata Steel from now on.”
She sent the film to a CEO of Tata Steel in India with whom she is in contact. “To show how beautiful and important a good living environment is. He answered very well, he had watched with his wife. But when I talk about the factory’s problems here at IJmuiden, he’s referring to Tata Steel Europe’s top man, Henrik Adam, who would have all the power. And Adam refers me to the public relations department. But I don’t have to talk to these people. It doesn’t make me despair. I’m not changing course. As an IJmondig foundation, we are powerful and we will get there.
Founder of Stiching IJmondig
Ellen Windemuth (1960) is of German-American origin and has lived in the Netherlands since 1993. She is the founder and CEO of the international company Out of the fence, a company that makes films and documentaries in the fields of science, history, travel, nature and culture. bee Out of the fence 120 people work.
Windemuth is also the founder of the IJmondig Foundation, a foundation that works for a better environment in Ijmond.