TV event Racing Extinction, from activist filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens (The Cove), launches on Discovery Channel Wednesday, December 2 at 9p with a message: humans are killing off species across the planet, and it’s time to make it stop. Stevens, a passionate advocate for environmental causes, talks to Cynopsis about a documentary he hopes will help change human behavior – and why Discovery is a perfect fit.
Cynopsis: What was the origin of Racing Extinction?
Fisher Stevens: The origins of Racing Extinction began at Sundance with The Cove. Louie was reading two books; one by Michael Novacek on how we could be losing much of the world’s species due to human impact; the other was by Charlie Veron on how the oceans and coral reefs were dying. That gave Louie the beginnings of an idea for a film. Then when we were in LA for the Academy Awards with The Cove in 2010, he heard about the restaurant in Santa Monica serving whale meat and proceeded to plan an undercover sting operation. So those were the origins.
Cynopsis: Why was Discovery the best fit for this project?
Stevens: When we did The Cove, we won all kinds of amazing awards and honors. But not many people actually saw the film. So with Racing Extinction, we really wanted to get the most possible eyeballs on the film. And Discovery is broadcast on millions of television sets around the world. So what better partners than a network that is not only all about but also called discovery? We’re hoping many people make new discoveries (ha!) while watching our film.
Cynopsis: What do you think are the scenes in the film most likely engage/enrage viewers?
Stevens: I think there are many equally engaging and enraging scenes. The film is beautifully shot, but it tells extremely worrying stories. Showing all the invisible carbon and methane emissions coming not only from planes, trains and automobiles but also out of us! And cows! Watching endangered species be projected on the Empire State building for the first time is mesmerizing; seeing a rooftop in Hong Kong upon which tens of thousands of shark fins that will go into bland tasting soup lay, and seeing manta ray gills hanging in plastic bags selling for supposed medicinal purposes will enrage.
Cynopsis: How far do we have to go to persuade the public that humans are hastening a massive extinction event, and why is a documentary an effective way to send that message?
Stevens: Documentaries are a great form of storytelling and a way of capturing the truth. And the truth is, if we don’t do something voluntarily and quickly to change the way we live, then we will just be forced to in the near future–and not on our own terms. So we need to continue making as many of these films–documentary or narrative–as we can. Films are a great communicator. We hope Racing Extinction doesn’t come off as preachy; but we want to keep trying to push people into understanding by showing them horrific scenes that actually go on in every day life…scenes that are mind-boggling and make it hard to comprehend how man can do such horrible damage.
Cynopsis: Were there any close calls filming, for example in Indonesia?
Stevens: With Indonesia, at first we were a bit nervous because the fishermen did not want us Westerners coming in and telling them how to live their lives. These were proud people and we were warned that there could be some issues when we got there. In the end we didn’t have any problems. We showed them that we respected them. We had to be careful not to lecture, and to understand that this was their livelihood. Our solution was to try to find ways for them to make money other than by slaughtering mantas. They were very receptive…although I will say that when I first got on the boat with them and they whipped out their harpoons, I got nervous!
Cynopsis: How long have you been involved in environmental issues?
Stevens: I went to a ‘No Nukes’ rally when I was in high school to protest the building of a nuclear power planet. That was the beginning of my environmental passion. On a political level I’ve always voted for the most environmental candidates..or at least I voted thinking that I was voting for the most environmental candidates! But it wasn’t until I started scuba diving quite frequently and saw the devastation of coral reefs that I became very motivated. That was my inspiration for getting involved with The Cove.
Cynopsis: Do you think the climate denier movement is picking up or losing steam? And what do you say to people who insist global warming is made up?
Stevens: The climate change movement is picking up at a massive, rapid pace. Hopefully Paris will have a lot of positive results. The fact that so many world leader showed up, and that the Chinese and Americans are negotiating for carbon emissions is a good sign.
I don’t even take climate change deniers seriously anymore, because that’s like saying that the world is flat. Anyone who is denying is either completely uninformed and has never stepped outside their house, or they are being paid by the oil, gas, and coal companies to say they don’t believe in it. I can understand people who aren’t informed, but I absolutely don’t understand anyone in ANY political position trying to deny it. They are the ones who can affect policy, and climate change is an issue that affects all of us. The science is in. People who say they’re not scientists should listen to the scientists.
Cynopsis: What specific behavior do you hope to change with this film?
Stevens: The main thing I hope watching this film will do is make people look at the world a little differently and understand that we all have to live on this planet together, and we all need to respect it. So by going to #startwith1thing, people can start slowly–but it’s more about joining a movement than joining a cause. So I hope people are inspired to make this Earth a hospitable home for all humans for more than just the next 50 years.
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