Monday, May 16, 2016

OVP: Racing Extinction (2015)

Film: Racing Extinction (2015)
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Song-"Manta Ray")
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

When I was a kid, my parents would buy my brother and I books about animals, and like most children we delighted in them.  They frequently were from National Geographic for Kids or something of that ilk, and pictured beautiful photographs of lions, tigers, whales, and zebras.  They were an utter fascination for he and I, both desperate for knowledge and, growing up in a farming community far from anything remotely like those gigantic, sprawling pictorials, a world essentially as alien as Mars.  As the years went past, environmentalism, or at least the armchair variety, became a passion of mine, and so I frequently find myself lapping up as many environmental documentaries as I can get my hands upon.  In recent years, though, I have become far more invested into the types of environmental films that are not just showing the beauty of nature, but also calling you to action.  Finding ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint, and create change in your environment.  Think The Cove, think Blackfish, and now think Racing Extinction, a provocative but disturbing and petrifying film that pulls no punches on not only the dire straits we are in as a society in terms of keeping animals around us, but also about the laziness of despair and staying on that armchair, hoping someone else will solve the problem.

The film follows a group of environmental activists, including several involved with the making of The Cove (Psihoyos won the 2009 Oscar for that must-see film), and how they are trying to stop the damage being done by the Anthropocene Extinction, which is currently underway).  The film does a fine job of explaining what that is in relatively simple (but still meaningful) terms, and then moving on to examples of activism being done by both the creators of the film as well as others involved in the community.  Like The Cove, much of this is centered around marine life.  We see, for example, a central theme of trying to get the manta ray, which is hunted in Indonesia and around the world despite having relatively little value in terms of food consumption and are used more so for eastern medicines, despite no scientific basis for such usage.  The film follows as manta rays, through one man (and his organization's) determination, finally get the species protected status in international waters, despite some attacks from China.

While frequently these types of documentaries focus on barbaric practices toward marine life in eastern Asia (there are intensely disturbing sequences focusing on shark fins that will make you want to instantly protest any restaurant that still serves shark fin soup), the movie is not immune to admonishing the United States and western countries.  The opening scene takes place in front of a popular sushi restaurant that illegally serves whale meat (which subsequently closes), and we in particular are harangued for the ridiculously high use of fossil fuels in the United States when cleaner energies are available.  Specifically, there is a shocking and somewhat vile look at how much CO2 comes out of your cars, planes, and trains with a camera that projects CO2 emissions like an x-ray.

The film is filled with random appearances by environmental celebrities as one frequently does in these circumstances (people like Elon Musk, Jane Goodall, and Leilani Munter, all heroes to the environmental movement, show up in some capacity), but the last few minutes are littered with a provocative look at how animals and nature still hold a powerful grip on us, as visions of tigers and algae are broadcast over iconic buildings like the Empire State Building (which went green a few years ago, for the record, and saved millions in the process).  It was also effective enough that it caused me to take a few more vows to be more environmentally-friendly myself.  I had made a personal promise to myself this summer that I would get out and volunteer more at environmental charities (my first one is next week-super excited!), but also that I would reexamine my own life.  So in accordance with the movie I'm going to try and continue doing a day without using my car and will up my meatless day each week to not including dairy as well, and maybe just remove hamburger from all but the occasional position on my plate.  And I'll probably look for more places to cut my impact, as the film, while occasionally going over things that we all should know, is very succinct at targeting perhaps the most dangerous and unforgivable of reactions to a documentary like this: hopelessness.  The movie stays sharp in pointing out that doing nothing is a lot of the problem, and that every person can make a difference, even if they claim that a river or a species is beyond our reach.  It's a great message, particularly as we head into an election cycle that will pit two candidates with polar opposite views on environmental issues and laws against each other.

Those are my thoughts on this film, which was nominated for Best Original Song (an interesting choice that they went with Antony and not the one by Sia, but all of J. Ralph's methodical music really matches these sorts of films so well that it's not a nomination without merit).  What are yours?  What environmental charities or steps do you take in your everyday life that you want to share?  The comments are there for the typing!

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