In 2009, nature photographer and documentary filmmaker Louie Psihoyos wowed audiences with the stunning film The Cove - an in-depth look at harmful dolphin hunting in Japan and how it affects both nature's delicate ecosystem and the human body. The Cove went on to win an Academy Award, which is no small feat for a first-time feature. Though that was his first film, Psihoyos is no stranger to digging deep for an introspective and intense look. He was hired by National Geographic at the young age of twenty-three and has photographed for Smithsonian, New York Times Magazine, and Time. Psihoyo's latest film project, Racing Extinction, is his most ambitious to date, tackling the wide-ranging topic of mass extinction on Earth.
Rather than focus on one pinpointed topic like in The Cove, Psihoyos dedicates time to smaller topics of extinction around the world in this new film. One of the most intriguing aspects of The Cove was Psihoyo's use of "secret cameras," filming segments of black-market deals and shifty treatment of animals to shock audiences with unedited and unapologetic footage. He uses the same tactics in Racing Extinction when we see firsthand what goes into shark-fin processing and the sale of prohibited whale meat for sushi restaurants in the United States.
While it's harrowing to see how our precious coral reefs may someday go extinct due to acidification and how 100 million sharks are killed yearly for the fin trade, the film pulls no punches in displaying this human-caused animal brutality. In perhaps one of the film's most heart-wrenching segments, Psihoyos and his team travel to a manta-ray farm in Indonesia, where they show dozens of dead manta rays and a fisherman harpooning his prey. The water turns red with its blood and then the animal is pulled onto the boat. The scene is treacherous and angering, which is most likely what Psihoyos aimed for in order to generate a strong reaction from his audiences.
It's especially difficult seeing so much effort go into the harmful food and agriculture industry as it results in the near-extinction of animals and a terrifying carbon footprint. In fact, Dominion points out that the greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, emitted from the livestock of factory farms and food animal agriculture in general greatly contribute to global warming and climate change. According to the film's Discovery web page, "universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17%," showing how the film ties in ideas of how eating vegan can help reduce animal cruelty around the world.
One of the most unique aspects of Racing Extinction is that it is not just a film, but a call to action. The film's web page invites interested viewers to learn more about dying species, like sharks and the grasshopper sparrow, and to pledge to end poaching and illegal animal trafficking all over the world. There is also an interactive map so visitors can see exactly where these atrocities occur, bringing the issues even closer to home.
For anyone who is passionate about saving this world's precious natural life, Racing Extinction is the kind of film that will shock and anger but ultimately, make you more eager to take action. Psihoyos certainly knows what he's passionate about and does a good job of bringing others into the fold.
Photo from Flickr Creative Commons