There was nothing common about Paul the Psychic Octopus.
The sea creature lived not much longer than most of his fellow Octopi – about two and a half years. The creature’s knack for picking the winners of critical soccer matches made him a global icon. That’s what attracted director Alexandre Philippe, best known for “The People vs. George Lucas,” to learn the whole story behind Paul.
“The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus,” debuting at 6:45 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Starz Denver Film Festival, seems to have little in common with the Force, Chewbacca or even Jar Jar Binks.
“I’m fascinated by aspects of pop culture … on the surface it’s meaningless and absurd, but if you dig a little deeper there are a lot of interesting themes that emerge,” says Philippe, who initially approached the subject for a short film before he realized Paul’s story simply begged for more screen time.
“Pop culture is a mirror to who we are as a society,” he adds.
That makes “Paul the Psychic Octopus” all the more … interesting. Paul rose to fame when he correctly predicted eight out of eight soccer matches during the 2010 World Cup. Paul became a Web phenomena, acquiring a talent agent, record deal and smartphone app in his short but distinct life. Fans loved him, or at least until he started picking against their favorite teams.
The director met and heard of several people who claimed Paul’s official origin story, that he was born in captivity in Weymouth, England, wasn’t true.
“Everyone wanted to claim him as their own,” he says of Paul.
The film, partly powered by animation, and crowd-sourced footage, features animal behavior experts, soccer fans and famed statisticians like David Spiegelhalter to share why Paul’s predictions proved so extraordinary.
The numbers tell part of the tale. The odds of someone repeating Paul’s successful prediction rate are 600-to-1.
Paul’s fame got a big boost from social media. Philippe says at the height of his popularity Paul was the number two Twitter trend in the world, second only to Lady Gag.
“I’m convinced well over a billion people knew who Paul the Octopus was. It’s astounding,” he says.
Paul, who indicated his choice by eating mussels from a box labeled for a particular team, didn’t get every prediction right. His track record was still one any gambler would die to replicate.
“What’s really interesting to me is that Paul rose to fame after his fourth prediction. That’s when he became international. He was in the spotlight, and he kept getting it right,” he says. “Statistics experts tell you Paul was very lucky. Bookmakers say he knew more than we think he knew.”
Philippe has already traveled the globe promoting the film across various festivals, and “Paul” has been broadcast in the Netherlands and Belgium. Philippe understands the film’s soccer angle may make it less appealing to American audiences, but he’s heartened by the reaction so far from the film festival circuit.
“It’s a fairy tale … one that appeals to kids and adults,” he says.