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Postcard From Sundance: A Climate Change Movie With Actual Glimmers of Hope

The latest from the gonzo doc-maker who gave us The Cove.

A shot from Racing Extinction

A shot from Racing Extinction 


At Sundance, director Louie Psihoyos introduces his new movie by asking for a show of hands to see who in the audience has seen The Cove, his debut documentary about dolphin slaughtering in Japan, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance and later went on to win the Best Documentary Oscar. I do not raise my hand because—frankly—dolphins are one of my favorite animals and I didn’t want to sit through 90 minutes of them being slaughtered. I was relieved to hear that since that film debut, dolphin slaughtering has gone down by two-thirds in Japan. Psihoyos got a rousing applause for that statistic, and while his newest movie promised no dolphin slaughtering, I knew what I was getting into. His new film is called Racing Extinction and it’s about our climate change emergency. So I was bracing myself, but Psihoyo’s filmed moved me in a way that it didn’t really think possible.

It all starts with secret cameras smuggled inside the Santa Monica sushi restaurant Hump, which closed in 2010 after this film’s team revealed that it was serving endangered whale meat. Then it launches into global warming, carbon dioxide emissions, methane emissions, ocean acidification, and of course, the slaughtering of endangered species. If that seems like a lot of stuff to cover in 98 minutes, you would be correct. About halfway through—when they show footage of manta rays being hunted down in an impoverished town off the coast of Indonesia—I’m feeling pretty hopeless. The  ray hunting seems like an easy fix: just stop doing it. But with so much carbon dioxide and methane leaking into the atmosphere and being absorbed by the ocean that it’s killing off plankton, coral, and dissolving shellfish alive, an overwhelming feeling of doom is pretty much expected.

That’s when Jane Goodall steps into the picture. She gives Psihoyos a lovely quote about holding out hope, and how we’ll make it through and for a moment you feel better. The filmmakers start their mission on the home front, recruiting Elon Musk and Telsa Motors to provide both insight and a tricked out car for the film’s finale. There are some small victories by the end, but the larger issue of what to do about carbon emissions and global warming are left only with the answer that people like you can help. Which is not immediately gratifying. But it's still better than slaughtered dolphins.



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