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On April 27, to a packed Tribeca Film Festival crowd that included Alec Baldwin and a number of curious acquisition executives, Louie Psihoyos gave a sneak peak of the documentary his covert team of filmmakers and environmental activists have been working on for the last five years.
Psihoyos’s follow up to his Oscar-winning The Cove is titled 6, a reference to Earth’s Sixth Great Extinction, which many scientists believe we are currently experiencing.
The previous Fifth Great Extinction was when dinosaurs were killed off millions of years ago by what was most likely an asteroid or comet. The premise of the film is simple: this current extinction is being caused by human activity, not an asteroid, and therefore it isn’t too late reverse course.
In what is ultimately a call to arms, 6 follows a group of activists shining a light on the most egregious and disturbing acts causing the extinction of 30,000 plus species every year.
Filming began one week before The Cove won the 2009 best documentary Oscar. With his team in town for the Academy Awards, Psihoyos staged an undercover sting operation of the Santa Monica hotspot The Hump.
After revealing the high-end sushi restaurant was serving endangered whale meat, the film crew moved onto the far more dangerous Asian black markets, where the stakes were much higher.
“We do a lot of undercover work,” Psihoyos told The Hollywood Reporter. “Stuff that is very dangerous, where if you get caught you can go to jail or worse.” In scenes that play out like a Hollywood spy thriller, 6 shows exactly how Psihoyos and activist Shawn Heinrichs infiltrate the endangered species trade where the fear of being exposed is constant.
“This guy right behind me,” Psihoyo pointing to Heinrichs, the film’s de facto hero, “He’s a rock star for conservation. These guys risk their life all the time. I snuck in with them for six to seven days into China and I was just happy to get out of there, but these guys live this daily. It’s like The Avengers, but real.”
The version of the documentary that screened at Tribeca is very much a work-in-progress.
“We were just shooting three days ago in Indonesia,” Psihoyos told THR. During the post screening Q-and-A, producer Fisher Stevens detailed how he was uploading footage in Singapore so Psyihoyos and his team of editors could cut it in the night before the screening.
“We still have to film a big climatic ending,” Psihoyos explained to THR, “and one of the reasons we wanted to do this screening is we’re hoping it’ll be a call to action to raise the financing for the last big part of the movie.”
At the end of the screening, it was revealed that the yet-to-be-filmed ending will be a massive projection of endangered species across the Manhattan skyline. In the current version of the doc, Psihoyos teams up with Obscura Digital’s Co-founder Travis Threlkel to build a sophisticated mobile projection system that pops out the back of an electric Tesla car.
There are then scenes of race car driver Leilani Munter driving the Tesla around and projecting footage of endangered species onto everything from a oil rig to the sides of public buildings.
“One thing we want to do this summer is have Travis do the world’s largest projection using the Empire State building as a centerpiece,” Psihoyos told the excited Tribeca crowd, “And then use the entire skyline to give endangered species a voice.”
The hope of the filmmakers is that YouTube clips of the unique skyline projection will go viral and build awareness of the film. The ultimate goal for the 6 team is to have the maximum impact to affect change, which Psihoyos realizes means getting as many people to see it as possible.
“The trick is to make a film people will want to go see on a Friday night,” Psihoyos explained, “and transcend the film festival circuit.”
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