27 January 2020
Oscar-winning film Louie Psihoyos (left) teams up with race car driver Leilani Münter for the filming of Racing Extinction. Photo: Facebook
Oscar-winning film Louie Psihoyos (left) teams up with race car driver Leilani Münter for the filming of Racing Extinction. Photo: Facebook

Undercover mission: Racing against the extinction of species

Humans are wiping out species faster than scientists can record their existence, said Louie Psihoyos, director of the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.

Feeling a pressing need to safeguard the vulnerable, the filmmaker came up with an idea to race against the extinction of endangered species in his latest production.

The film — Racing Extinction – captures a team of activists conducting undercover operations deep inside some of the most dangerous black markets as well as doing video projections on buildings.

How could Psihoyos and his team from the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) make this impossible mission possible?

First, they needed a race car driver onboard. Leilani Münter agreed to help without any hesitation back in February 2012.

This charming but tough lady is an environmental activist herself who has been deeply inspired by The Cove and has become a volunteer for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project ever since.

Her main role in the latest project was to deliver and extract her teammates at various black markets crossing mountains and canyons.

Everyone on the team was willing to risk their safety by snooping inside sneaky locations to film video footage that exposes the crimes committed by illegal traders of endangered wildlife.

After securing their driver, the team needed a vehicle to take them around. Münter dubbed it the “Bond-inspired vehicle for the planet”.

Painted with electro-luminescent materials on the body, the modified Tesla model S evolved into a beautiful ocean creature. Its incredible charm lies not only on the outside but also in its interior. 

The electric sedan has been installed with a 15,000 lumen robotic video projection system that deploys out of the back window to present vivid imagery and environmental messages in public spaces.

“It is one of the important characters in the show, and it’s my honor indeed to drive it around,” she said.

After the completion of the documentary, Münter never felt the same again. It took her by surprise to learn how fast the destruction of nature is happening. She couldn’t name a single car in the world that could ever approximate its speed.

The problem of wildlife extinction is alarming. Biodiversity is shrinking as a result of extreme climate changes and ocean acidification. Human beings are at this critical point in history, Münter said.

Nevertheless, she strongly believes that people still could turn the situation around, extending the life of Earth, if everyone takes up the responsibility.

Not long before the interview, it happened that the San Francisco, California-based Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was trying to shut down a solar power system.

Münter took no time to drive to the company’s headquarters and, using the team’s robotic video projector, bombarded it with messages about the consequences of its environmentally unsound decision.

There would be nothing better than using light itself to protest against those stopping others from using solar energy, she noted.

In one occasion during the filming, she sneaked into an oil refinery and projected green messages onto the facility, drawing the attention of security guards and the police force.

At that particular moment, she realized what she was doing might land her in jail. Still, she found the mission worthwhile to take the risks.

“I agreed with Psihoyos that the statistics wouldn’t be good enough to arouse public awareness on environmental protection, we must move their hearts,” she said.

Asked what practical things one can do for the planet’s wellbeing, Münter said switching to electric sedans that give no emission is a good starting point for all drivers.

Meanwhile, everyone should consider becoming a vegetarian. According to Münter, there are more than 600 million people who have decided not to consume meat, which can bring tremendous benefits to the planet.

“I know it is not easy to skip meat at the beginning. But if you are used to having it for three meals, you can start slowly by shunning meat for one meal.”

The documentary film, Racing Extinction, will be aired on Animal Planet (nowTV 210 and Cable TV Channel 55), Discovery Channel (nowTV 209 and Cable TV Channel 53), and Discovery Science (nowTV 211 and Cable TV Channel 58) at 9 p.m. on Dec. 2.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 25.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Münter used the team’s robotic video projector to bombard the PG&E’s headquarters with messages about the consequences of its environmentally unsound decision. Photos: Facebook,

The team projects images of endangered species on the facades of skyscrapers. Photo: OPS

The illegal trade of wildlife represents a serious threat to the survival of endangered species. Photo: Ethan Johnson

HKEJ writer