If you were captivated by the exploits of “Otter 841” evading the authorities in Santa Cruz all last summer, you’ll love SFFILM’s otter documentary screening this Saturday at the Marina Theatre.

We all spent last summer obsessed with the furry character known as Otter 841, the five-year-old female sea otter who hijacked surfboards and kayaks while befuddling fish and wildlife experts who simply could not catch her for three months. (It turned out she was pregnant the whole time, and her behavior was likely due to hormones.)

Now otter-mania is set to return to the Bay Area this weekend, as one of the many films playing at the SFFILM Festival is a new documentary “like no otter,” National Geographic's Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story, playing Saturday afternoon at the Marina Theatre.

Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story is not about Otter 841, but instead about a different otter 5,000 miles away in the Shetland Islands of Scotland (home to the highest density of the Eurasian Otters in Europe). As seen in the trailer above, this otter “Molly” is nursed back to health by a man named Billy, as told in this feature-length documentary from director Charlie Hamilton James, who’s worked with David Attenborough and National Geographic, and has been photographing otters in Shetland since he was 16.

“Charlie has spent almost all his entire life being obsessed with otters,” the film’s producer Jeff Wilson tells SFNews. “When you’re obsessed with otters and you’re Charlie Hamilton James, then you’re fairly well connected to the other world.”

James himself tells us that Otter 841 and Molly are very different otters, as there are more a dozen different species of otters on earth.

“Molly’s actually a river otter, similar to your North American river otters, but she lives in the sea,” he explains, noting that Otter 841 is a sea otter. “Sea otters are bigger than Molly, they’re actually one of the largest otters. The thing about Molly is she was never captured, she was starving. That’s why she washed up at Billy’s feet. She lost her fear of humans because she was at death’s door.”


And yes, Molly does seem much friendlier than the cantankerous Otter 841.

“All otters are very different, they have characteristics, just like humans do,” Wilson tells us. “So it’s perfectly feasible that you’d have a grumpy otter in California and a friendly otter in Shetland.”

Or as James adds, “Animals are just humans with different skins.”

James also notes that while we called Otter 841 “aggressive,” we may have been misinterpreting her surfboard-stealing ways.

“Many of us lost our understanding of animals, often behaviors which are just normal are seen as aggressive,” he tells SFNews. “There’s this assumption that animals can be very aggressive, but actually they’re not. She sees a floating thing and she’s not scared of humans. She thinks, ‘Oh, I’m just going to take a rest on that.’”

Image: National Geographic

And if your faith in others needs to be reaffirmed in any way, Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story will certainly do that.

“Once Billy brought [Molly] to reared health, she could have quite easily taken off and gone on and looked after herself,” Wilson points out. “But she didn’t. And that’s a testament to her character. She is an extraordinary individual, and she happened to just sort of land on the right guy’s doorstep, on the right family’s doorstep.”

Even though you haven’t yet seen Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story, director Charlie Hamilton James would still like to give away an enormous spoiler.

“The otter doesn’t die,” he says. “Now we live in this world where everyone’s expecting something bad to happen. We saw something beautiful happening, and we wanted that to come through.”

Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story plays Saturday, April 27 at 12:15 pm at the Marina Theatre, 2149 Chestnut Street (at Steiner Street); More information at SFFILM

Related: Super-Aggressive Santa Cruz Sea Otter Is Pirating People’s Surfboards, Menacing Kayakers [SFNews]

Image: National Geographic