Apr 17, 2020
What would happen if you invited an octopus into your home?
That is the question scientist David Scheel asked and director Anna Fitch followed in the film “Octopus: Making Contact.” The 2019 PBS Nature documentary kicks off the International Wildlife Film Festival on Saturday with a screening and extra programming for pass holders.
The now-virtual IWFF runs April 18-25 and features more than 80 films, a majority of which are free to stream the week of the festival.
Octopuses are one of the most intelligent species on the planet. They’ve been documented using tools, navigating complex mazes and solving puzzles. Until recently, the soft-bodied mollusks were thought to be mostly solitary creatures, but new research is looking at the extent to which they can recognize faces and interact with other individuals.
“He was studying the idea that octopuses may in fact be social under some circumstances,” Fitch said. “That was really the core bit of natural history intrigue that sparked our desire to reach out and contact him.”
“Like Heidi, we became part of the family. We were camped out in his basement,” Fitch said. “It was an intimate experience on many levels.”
Throughout the film, Scheel spouts off seemingly endless fascinating facts about octopuses and uses Heidi to demonstrate. For example, octopuses can change colors to match their surroundings. And because they have no skeleton, they can squeeze through small spaces and mold their body to fit in any shape.
“The sun would hit the tank and throw a rainbow somewhere or Heidi would move through the lighting and cast a shadow of herself on the wall,” Fitch said. “We were just there opportunistically to capture those things.”
While Laurel wasn’t originally supposed to be a main character, she became just as intrigued with Heidi as her father and ended up helping him with the experiment.
Scheel’s goal was never to publish a paper or an article through the experiment, and Fitch said he was more surprised at the non-scientific results he found.
“He was really happy with how Heidi brought dynamic joy and fun into his family life,” Fitch said. “It was a very different type of experiment.”
For a full schedule of films and programming or to purchase a virtual pass, visit wildlifefilms.org