If you looked up this weekend, you might have seen something extraordinary. On Saturday night, The Cove director Louie Psihoyos put on an event in which he and a team of collaborators projected images, some moving, of endangered species onto the Empire State Building. The creatures got their due, and, hopefully, will get a chance to be brought back from going extinct.

I wrote a story for The New York Times in which Psihoyos expressed his ambition to reach ten percent of Earth’s human population with the projections and his upcoming film, Racing Extinction, which will be getting a theatrical release in the fall and then air on Discovery in December. All filmmakers harbor big dreams of reaching a wide audience, but Psihoyos is taking things to another level. I have to admit to some skepticism about his lofty goal, but at the same time I admire him for it. He has spent years, primarily as a photographer for National Geographic, working with experts, paleontologists and scientists who have shown him the hard evidence of past mass extinctions. He believes, with species currently dying out at 1,000 times the pre-human rate, the planet is undergoing its sixth mass extinction. And he doesn’t want to sit idly by.

Alas, the reach of a documentary, or even a canvas as large as the Empire State Building, can only go so far, right? Well, here’s quick story to indicate Psihoyos’s ambition might not be so ridiculous.
I picked up a copy of the Times Friday night at a 7-Eleven store, where some Filipino guys were working the counter. One of their pals, Edgar, was hanging out and he asked me, “Why do you want to read that paper? You should read the New York Post.”

We got to talking and I told him I about the event at the Empire State Building. He became really excited about it, and pulled out his phone and started showing me videos and pictures of different animals. He showed me a tarsier, a tiny monkey, and a monkey-eating eagle, both of which, he informed me, were in danger of going extinct. He was really emphatic about me checking these animals out.

What I was impressed by was how much of a point of pride, and, I guess, identity, it meant to my new friend, that these animals were from the Philippines. It meant a lot to him. He felt a connection.

If everyone on the planet is waving their phones, talking about the different animals they care about — whether it’s Cecil the Lion or tarsier monkeys — maybe there is a level of concern out there that Psihoyos can tap into. I saw a lot of phones lifted up to capture the images on Saturday night. I don’t know how you can quantify the reach but Saturday night’s moment will surely have some ripple effect.

To be a part of the ripple, check out racingextinction.com.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen