Six years ago, visionary director and activist Louie Psihoyos shocked the world with his stomach-churning film, The Cove, bringing to attention the plight of the dolphin populations in Taijii, Japan. His unnerving images of cetacean slaughter, before detailing the trade of dolphin meat around the country, brought the world to arms, and has made a huge impact on the issue ever since.
In his new film, however, Psihoyos has decided to go even bigger. This is not a story about a single species, nor is it about many species. No, Racing Extinction is a passionate attempt to save the entire world.
Beginning with the facts and figures, Psihoyos and his team inform us that the next great extinction event shall not be caused by some errant meteor as was the last one, but is in fact happening right now at the hands of man. So many species are disappearing from the planet through hunting, fishing and greed that they believe that half the wildlife on the planet will be wiped out within the next century unless something is done to stop it.
Psihoyos and his team then take us to China, where tens of thousands of sharks are hunted each year, their fins cut off whilst still alive and then thrown back into the sea to suffer an agonizing death, all in the name of traditional cuisine. The peaceful manta ray too is chased down like whaling trips of old, speared and then tired out over a course of hours before being reeled in, simply to have its gills removed for an ancient medicinal practice believed to cure cancer. The meat of these serene giants is then discarded as it is too bitter for human consumption.
The stories are tragic and moving, though perhaps not as heartbreaking as that of the iconic dolphins, a problem that Psihoyos himself brings up; the biggest issue right now is that plankton, the source of life on the planet, is dying out, but who cares about a tiny bug that you can’t even see?
And so begins a campaign; a beautiful light exhibition projected across the buildings of New York, to get people thinking. To encourage them, as the campaign states, to “change just one thing”. No one man can save the planet, but if we each do a little to help, we could eventually get there.
Racing Extinction is a peculiar film. In many ways, it could have served better as a series, each week detailing one of the different environmental issues, rather than being the slight hodge-podge that it is. That said, the photography is breathtaking, and the passion of Psihoyos and his team is evident throughout. Watching them covertly infiltrate various fishing mafias is a thrill, and although, much like The Cove, it paints its target country in a pretty horrible light, it should be stated that it is, again, just a small community doing this, not the whole country.
Instantly entrancing and though-provoking, Racing Extinction, like its predecessor, is a powerful piece of film-making filled with beautiful shots of the world around us, juxtaposed cleverly with the harsh hand of humanity. Not for the faint-hearted, this is certainly not Attenborough.
Dir: Louie Psihoyos
Scr: Mark Monroe
Prd: Olivia Ahnemann, Fisher Stevens
DOP: John Behrens, Shawn Heinrichs, Sean Kirby, Petr Stepanek
Music: J. Ralph
Runtime: 90 mins
Racing Extinction is available on DVD and Blu-ray 28th March