One of the unique benefits of working at a university is the constant flow of inspirational people who visit. A couple weeks ago Piper Kerman from Orange is the New Black spoke and earlier this year
On Friday night, I checked my email to find that Louie Psihoyos was coming to speak at FSU on Monday. Psihoyos directed The Cove, an OSCAR award winning documentary that follows mercury poisoning in Taiji, Japan. More than 2,000 dolphins are killed there, some are sold to sea parks but most land on the plates of unsuspecting eaters. Dolphin meat is high in mercury and is being sold across Japan, posing a huge public health risk.
This was MY DREAM. If you’ve spent ten minutes with me or read this blog, you know I adore documentaries. I blog about them pretty often.
Monday morning around 9:30, Chelsea and I hopped on a bus to the stadium and 15 minutes later we’re sitting in an auditorium with Louie Psihoyos. In case you missed it, I love documentaries and blog about them constantly. With my smart brain I immediately deduct that Louie a) is handsome and 2) has a great voice.
1. Relationships are paramount.
Above everything else, his advice about pushing boundaries, asking for permission and foraging relationships resonated with me most over his two hour talk.
Japanese government is not pleased with him and Louie even mentioned a few arrest warrants that are out for him. Regardless, he attended the Tokyo Film Festival where Alejandro González Iñárritu, director of Birdman, threatened to step down from the festival’s jury if they didn’t allow The Cove to be shown. During the festival, The Cove was shown.
2. Believe in your cause. With passion.
A student asked about how he felt ethically about his methods of filming the Cove in Taiji for his documentary. For him, it wasn’t about breaking rules or making a statement, but doing what had to be done to expose a problem. “I don’t have a problem breaking laws,” he said. “I’m on the right side of justice.”
Much of Louie’s talk circled around plant-based eating, his “carbon allowance” and his die-hard passion for preserving the ocean and our planet. His office space doesn’t allow any animal products to be brought inside, aligning with his vegan lifestyle he’s maintained for years.
“I’m still talking about The Cove five years later, because it’s my life.”
His vegetarian and later vegan journey began in 1986, when Louie worked on a story for Fortune magazine on private cattle ranches and visited a slaughterhouse as part of his research. In the slaughterhouse, he watched the process of killing and cutting the cows. After the hide is removed, various workers cut out slabs of meat from the animal. As the cows moved down the cutting line, a presumed dead cow looked over and made eye contact with Louie. From that moment on, he relied on fish for his protein and a few years ago abandoned all animal products completely.
3. Care about your viewer.
He spoke about the crunch of editing, the hours that are poured into cutting a ten minute story to seven, then five, then two. He reassured the upcoming graduates that the time, effort and frustration are worth it when you’re making a feature that has the potential to affect the audience’s life forever.
“To me, you are more than a $10 ticket and a bucket of popcorn.”
He went on to talk about telling a story to the audience and the making of the award-winning scene where the water turns red during the dolphin slaughter in Taiji.
4. And don’t underestimate them.
Another audience question asked about his newest documentary, Racing Extinction, which was screened Sunday night for an audience at Florida State. The student asked about the use of jargon in the film and how he thought the audience would receive it.
“The audience isn’t dumb,” he responded. “People are smarter and understand more than we give them credit for.”
And there it is! My two hour inspiration session with Louie Psihoyos.