Q&A with Louie Psihoyos


Award-winning filmmaker and eco-activist Louie Psihoyos is back with a new mission. While The Cove focused on the plight of dolphins, his latest movie Racing Extinction takes on a more far-reaching issue: mankind’s role in a potential catastrophe that could wipe out half of the world’s species. Ecozine contributor Joyee Chan asked him to share about the journey.

What inspired you to make Racing Extinction?

The idea was to make a film about the most important, pressing problem in the world. There have been five major extinctions in the history of the planet. A mass extinction is when we lose half or more of all the species on the planet. And we’re going through that again right now.

The last dinosaurs were killed by a meteor, but this time, humanity has become the meteor and this new epoch is called the Anthropocene [or the age of men]. Our own species name, Homo sapiens, means the wise ones. But how wise [can we be] to cause, as some scientists say, 30,000 species to go extinct every year?

What we’re trying to do with this movie is not just create the awareness that were going through [another massive catastrophe]. We want to create a movement to prevent it. so that in fifty years, we aren‘t looking at ourselves and saying, ‘why didn’t we do enough to try to solve this problem?’

What was your favourite moment during the filming of Racing Extinction?

I think one of the most powerful events for me was trying for the last four years to project images of endangered species onto the Empire State Building. Everybody thought 1 was crazy. They told me it was impossible, it’d be too much bureaucracy to go through, and it’d be too expensive.

On the evening of the show, it was beautiful to see taxis stopping in the middle of the street and kids’ faces lighting up. It was a dream come true, that we could stop a busy city like New York in its tracks just by showing them the beauty of nature.

You discovered that you used 646 tonnes of carbon to produce The Cove. Did Racing Extinction do any better with its carbon footprint‘?

Yes, we did quite a bit better. After we made The Cove, we went completely solar — the last half of The Cove was created completely on solar. We now generate 140 per cent of our energy off the roof of Oceanic Preservation Society, my base of operations in Colorado. The state has 300 days of sun a year — more than the ‘sunshine state’ of Florida. I used to spend about US $1,000 on electricity. Now I don’t pay — the electric company pays me [because the panels generate more electricity than we need].

Did Racing Extinction bring about any immediate changes?

We infiltrated a lot of illegal wildlife markets. In China, we helped bust several rings selling endangered shark species and closed down six illegal operations. In the United States and Korea, we also busted some restaurants selling whale meat. We didn’t think about the associated risk so much. Only after we left did we think about how scary and crazy all that was!

You talk a lot about hope and inspiring people, but do you ever feel pessimistic?

I don’t ever feel really pessimistic because l’m surrounded by too many people making great changes. I mean you look at the people in this film… say someone like Shawn Heinrichs, an ocean activist from landlocked Boulder, Colorado. In the course of this film, he helped create the worId’s biggest marine sanctuary for manta rays in Indonesia.

Or look at Leilani Munter. She’s a five-foot-tall woman in the a male-dominated world of car-racing… She’s a real inspirational character, she’s exciting, [and she] brings environmental messages with her car to people who traditionally wouldn’t listen.

I don’t hang out with that many people who feel glum. I don’t think we can allow ourselves to feel too sorry for ourselves. I think when you do that, you miss the opportunity to create change.



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