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Oscar-winning Director Louie Psihoyos: “I make films to change the world”
by Kelly Fanarioti
Oscar-winning filmmaker Lοuie Psihoyos tries to refute the legend – as he calls it – that people consume meat in order to be healthy and strong. “The Game Changers,” with executive producer and creator of ”Titanic” and ”Avatar” James Cameron, is about entirely plant-based nutrition–which is different than vegetarianism that allows consumption of dairy and eggs.
Researches by leading scientists and doctors around the world have concluded that an entirely plant-based diet can be the ultimate nutrition for living the healthiest. “Take the Island of Ikaria in Greece, which has been called the Island where people forget to die: and that’s because it is one of the places where people live the longest. It’s one of the five areas in the world where people statistically live longer than any other: more centenarians on a percentage basis,” Psihoyos told NEO. “In these so-called blue zones, people consume about 95% of their calories from plants. They avoid animal products, mainly because they are expensive, but it’s one of the things that unwittingly keep them living longer.”
Several world-class vegan athletes featured in this revolutionary film, including the five-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and world record – holding strongman Patrik Baboumian, who are not only at the top of their game, but also beating global records and currently hold or have formerly held Guinness World Records titles. Other amazing, title-holding vegan athletes include Dana Glowacka (Canada), Carl Lewis (USA), Fiona Oakes (UK) and more.
”I wanted to make a film that shows that the top athletes in the world can thrive on plants. The world’s strongest man, the most accomplished ultra runner, top race car driver, the list goes on, all eat only plants to get all their nutrition and protein,” says Psihoyos. “I’m Greek and we used to eat a lot of animal products. I always thought you had to eat animal products to be big and strong, but that’s the most dangerous myth in the world”.
The film was presented a year ago at many documentary festivals around the world and is now available on Netflix. As the director confesses, it has created converts in droves. ”My best friend has lost 20 pounds, his cholesterol is down and he looks 10 years younger in the six months since watching the film. We showed Game Changers in Texas, a big meat eating state, and the whole audience of 400 we surveyed said they were giving up animal products”.
Indeed, more and more people around the world choose to become vegetarian or vegan. According to the Greek-American director, this is due to more and more researches of great scientists that came to light and show that these dietary habits offer health and longevity. ”The science is in, if you want to have a healthy heart, arteries and a more active sex life, give up animal products. We showed in the film that a single meal of vegetables over a meat based meal can make a young athlete sustain an erection 350 percent longer with an average of 10.4 percent harder bigger penis. There’s going to be a lot more women serving veggie meals after reading that statement. More people will give up meat to have better sex than to save the environment,” said Psihoyos who stopped eating meat in 1986, after a visit to a slaughterhouse for cows. Since then, and for 30 years, he has eaten only fish and become a pescatarian–until he made the Oscar winning film ”The Cove,” which involved the eating of dolphins in Japan.
“All dolphins have toxic levels of mercury, anywhere from 5-5000 times more than is considered safe. Mercury is the most toxic non-radioactive element in the world : a doctor showed me the brain of someone who died of it. Believe me, you don’t want that to happen to you – the brain looks like Swiss cheese – full of holes. I don’t eat dolphin, but I decided to get my mercury levels checked because I ate a lot of fish, and mine were dangerously high, so I had to give up fish because of necessity. Believe me, it was the most shocking thing I’ve ever had happen to me,” he confesses.
After that, he was scared he would die because he wouldn’t have any protein, but a meeting he had with a vegan woman during the Academy Awards in Los Angeles has changed his life. ”I asked her what she ate and she said, ‘everything else. All protein comes from plants!’ That blew my mind!”
For filming ”The Cove” both he and his colleagues were equipped with military technology and thermal cameras to collect the necessary material. The film was secretly filmed at night, with the film crew constantly in danger of being caught by the police. Following the release of the documentary, the Japanese government announced it was particularly offensive, and since then Louie Psihoyos is considered persona non grata in the country. “Every minute we passed, we were confronted with being arrested; but we consciously decided to move on and reveal the brutality that takes place in Taiji Bay. It was terrible to see the fishermen kill the dolphins in front of our eyes and we couldn’t do anything about it. When we then discovered that this meat is being promoted in schools and consumed by the students, we were terrified!”
As Psihoyos says, he and his team measure a film’s success not by box office receipts but by the impact it creates. “We make films to change the world. When we made ‘The Cove’ they were killing some 23,000 dolphins and porpoises a year in Japan for human consumption. Last year they killed just 610 dolphins. When we made Racing Extinction, a film about mass extinction, 36 million people saw it the first day and it helped change laws. With ‘The Game Changers’ we’ll potentially improve the health of millions of people, inspire the best sex they ever had and hopefully save billions of animals in the process. ‘The Game Changers’ might be one of the most powerful films ever made”.
Louie Psihoyos was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1957, the son of a Greek immigrant who left the Peloponnese region (Sparta) after World War II. He took an interest in photography at the age of fourteen. As a teenager, he worked as a photo intern with the Telegraph Herald. During that time he also worked as an extra on the set of F.I.S.T. Psihoyos attended the University of Missouri, majoring in photojournalism. In 1980, at the age of twenty-three, he was hired by National Geographic and remained with the magazine for seventeen years. During this time he married and had two children. He received multiple awards for his photography, including first place in the World Press Contest and the Hearst Award. In addition, he has worked with magazines such as Smithsonian, Discover, GEO, Time, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and Rock and Ice.
Together with Ric O’Barry, Jim Clark and a team of specially selected crew members, Psihoyos filmed the feature-length documentary “The Cove,” released in 2009. On March 7, 2010, “The Cove” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. As well as its Oscar win, the film was nominated for awards at multiple festivals including Hot Docs, Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival.