‘I FEEL LIKE THE WORLD is absolutely insane," says US film-maker and diver Louis Psihoyos, surveying tens of thousands of severed shark fins set out in neat rows in Hong Kong.
For him the key to bringing the world to its senses before too many more wildlife species disappear forever is not to give in to feelings of hopelessness but to harness the power of imagery, whether in the form of film, stills or live projection.
Having watched many low-budget environmental films I find it interesting to see what can be done with a highly professional team on what was presumably a decent budget.
Racing Extinction is a beautifully shot and edited documentary that confronts us with the reality of what’s happening to our planet at a few minutes to midnight.
This must be one of the most compelling environmental films to appear since The End of the Line – not surprising when you realise that it was Psihoyos who directed the Oscar-winning The Cove, the film that informed the world about Japanese dolphin slaughter.
Racing Extinction is mainly, though not exclusively, concerned with the underwater world as it struggles to cope with man’s depredations and ocean acidification. We see what’s happening through the eyes of people like Shawn Heinrichs and Paul Hilton, undercover activists who have already helped to bring about change, such as with Wild-Aid’s successful anti-shark-finning campaign in China or the CITES manta-ray protection campaign.
We follow the investigators into the depressing illegal wildlife markets in China and Hong Kong and on a manta hunt in Indonesia that’s painful to watch, but we are also offered reasons to believe that solutions remain in our hands even at this late stage.
A New York restaurant serving whale sushi is shut down by a lone activist; locations such as Islas Mujeres in Mexico show how it’s possible to switch from profiting from dead sharks to live ones; progress made in China is acknowledged.
And throughout there is plenty of spectacular underwater action to show what’s at risk.
The power of imagery culminates in spectacular displays projected onto the buildings of New York City, masterminded by Travis Threlkel of Obscura Digital and underlining that in the end it’s all about education and inspiration. “The whole world is singing – but we’ve stopped listening” is the message.
Psihoyos says he was horrified by the amount of energy that had to be expended in making a film about environmental protection, but if enough people get to see Racing Extinction, it will have been worth it.
Review by Steve Weinman

Discovery Channel
90min, 2 December