Craig Foster’s My Octopus Teacher

I tent to avoid documentaries for the most part; real life is enough of a hurdle for me and I thrive off of fiction as escapism. Once in a while though I’ll dabble, usually something based in the natural world and animal kingdom, something that has to be cathartic, emotionally challenging and life affirming. My Octopus Teacher is all of these things and so much more, not only one of the most stunning, important and compassionate documentaries I’ve ever seen but an overall illuminating treatise on humanity’s somewhat dimmed but so, so essential relationship with the natural world and the creatures dwelling in it, an aspect of our experience that technology, infrastructure and rampant neglect have unfortunately dimmed. Wildlife photographer Craig Foster takes us through a defining chapter of his life as his underwater diving explorations along the lush, breathtaking Cape Town coastal waters gives him an incredible discovery: a curious female octopus living in a beautiful old growth kelp forest who he interacts with, befriends and learns to care deeply for. As we follow them down into her wondrous deep sea realm we see an intricate, wonderfully symbiotic ballet of motion, purpose, symmetry and beauty as the two become fast friends against the otherworldly backdrop of this SciFi-esque marine dreamscape. She provides him with previously unearthed knowledge regarding her species, staggers him with her considerable intelligence and innovative tactical maneuvers and the two bond over the majority of her life as he makes a private pact with himself to visit her every day over the course of a year or so. At one point he admits to the camera that before this experience he had never been particularly sentimental towards animals and that she not only changed that forever, but affected his empathy towards others in life including his own family. Animals are incredibly important, they are so much more than just pets, part of the scenery, food sources or safari wonders, they are companions and peers that share the planet alongside us and have just as much knowledge, empathy, playfulness, dignity and ability to change the world around them for the better as any given human being does. At our *best* we can only hope to be what they are, and this oceanic creature brings out the very best in one curious human who cares for her deeply and does everything he can for her. One of the most important films I’ve seen in a long time.

-Nate Hill



Damn. The 2013 French action thriller Zulu, directed by Jérôme Salle, is a knock-your-socks off piece of filmmaking. It’s violent – VERY violent – but not without purpose, and the twisty/twisted narrative (involving something called Project Coast which is beyond disgusting) takes familiar procedural elements and filters them against the dangerous and exotic backdrop of South Africa and various groups of drug-runners and gang-members. The racial unrest that has plagued South Africa for years is on full display in this exciting film, with the story touching on generational violence that has formed the attitudes and behaviors of the various characters. This is one of those international productions, like Metro Manila and Miss Bala and Sin Nombre, that takes you on a hellish ride, never interested in holding your hand, and plunging you into a volatile world of nightmarish scenes of human behavior. Orlando Bloom was really good here, and Forest Whitaker, as always, commands the screen whenever he appears. Stunning cinematography and fantastic location work contribute to the visually vibrant atmosphere, and while the script is probably too on-the-nose with its dialogue in a few spots, there’s a ferocity to the storytelling and filmmaking that puts most American actioners to shame. Excellent shoot-outs that don’t shy away from the bloody consequences of urban warfare. Available as a Region B Blu-ray only, which is rather pitiful, given that it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.