We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
Director Louie Psihoyos: My wish is that the film will inspire legions of people to take action so we could avert a disaster like the Earth hasn’t had for eons. We also wanted legislation that would begin to mitigate some of the stresses on endangered species. It seems to be working. The film was seen by 36 million people in 220 countries and territories on the first day it aired. The activism around the film has helped inspire legislation that prevents some of the most endangered species from entering Western U.S. ports. The film also led to the closing down of 6 illegal shark processing plants in China that were harvesting and trafficking endangered sharks.
What drove you as a filmmaker to focus on our oceans and marine life?
LP: I started the Oceanic Preservation Society with a group of friends who love to dive with the idea that we would create films to inspire people to help save the oceans. We’ve been witnessing the reefs quickly degrading over the last few decades but never really put it together that what we were witnessing was the beginning of a mass extinction event. I’ve photographed several stories on Mesozoic extinction events for magazines like National Geographic, Time and Smithsonian. When I met the provost of The American Museum of Natural History in New York he me told that we at the beginning of a human caused mass extinction event right now called the Anthropocene and that was why we were losing the reefs. The reefs he said were one of the many canaries in the coal mine for a larger catastrophe that is happening right now. I thought that there was no more important issue in the world I could be doing than to alert people to the fact that this was happening. But we didn't want to just create awareness - we wanted to create action.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
LP: The whole crew faced danger as shark oil buyers in China. They put themselves in harm’s way time and time again throughout the film but everyone knew the risk. But all these efforts would be pretty meaningless if nobody saw the film or took action. We knew the film wouldn’t be enough to draw attention to the subject so we spent 4-years trying to get permission to light up the Empire State Building with endangered species, an event that we hoped could end the film. In the end that event drew 939,000,000 media views in less than a week and became top trending story on Facebook and Twitter for 4 days worldwide. We thought we couldn’t get any more attention to the subject than that and then Pope called. Pope Francis is named after St. Francis, the Patron Saint of animals and he asked us to light up the Vatican with endangered species during COP 21 to remind world leaders more was at stake with climate change than humans. That event drew 4.4 billion media views and an estimated 225,000 people saw the event live in St. Peter’s Square.