From Phytoplankton to Film: XPRIZE Carbon Removal Indie Film Showcase Selects a Winner

Nov 14 2023

Seen from above, a whale releases a stream of feces behind it in an ocean while it releases a spout from its blowhole. At the top of the image are the words

In 2022, XPRIZE began collaborating with Glimmer (formerly Storyhunter) to create an independent film competition that answered a simple question: “What does saving the world look like?” 

Thus, the XPRIZE Carbon Removal Indie Film Showcase was born. Shortly thereafter, nine independent filmmakers set out to follow teams competing in the XPRIZE Carbon Removal Milestone round. Each filmmaker documented the competing XPRIZE Carbon Removal teams’ efforts to remove and durably sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, earth, and oceans. 

While this film competition took place alongside XPRIZE Carbon Removal, it was a separate venture. Rather than focusing on the success of any specific carbon removal technology, the film competition focused on how well the filmmakers covered the story, the technical quality of their film, the overall impact it generated, and their ability to convey information about carbon removal technology to a global audience.

While all the stories captured by these international videography teams were inspiring, XPRIZE is proud to announce the winning film: How Whale Poop Can Help Us Remove Carbon Dioxide From the Ocean

This film, produced by Kirsty B. Carter, along with ethical film and video production company Painting in Pictures, follows WhaleX in their efforts to harness the carbon negative power of phytoplankton. To do this, WhaleX mimicked an unexpected force in the carbon cycle: whale poop.

Final contestants participating in the $100M prize for XPRIZE Carbon Removal are set to be judged in 2024. For more information about this prize, teams, and exciting developments in the carbon removal industry, check out the XPRIZE Carbon Removal homepage

You can watch the winning film below and the full XPRIZE Carbon Removal Indie Film Showcase playlist here.

To learn more about the winning film, XPRIZE sat down with Kirsty B. Carter to learn about her work firsthand. 


XPRIZE: What drew you to documentary filmmaking in the natural world? 

Kirsty B. Carter: My filmmaking is deeply rooted in an early fascination with the vast wonderment of our world. As a child, the complexity and beauty of nature's tapestry sparked my imagination, and ever since, I've been filming projects in the remotest corners of the globe. At Painting in Pictures, we adhere to a 'leave no trace' philosophy, striving to minimize our carbon footprint and our disturbance to nature's delicate balance—this approach resonated with the ethos of the WhaleX team, making the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition a perfect fit. 

XPRIZE: Whale poop is a surprising topic for a film, how did you approach creating a narrative that could grip an audience? 

KBC:  Showcasing artificial whale feces was a unique challenge, and I'm always up for a challenge. The 'Whale X' project was about more than just understanding the science; it was about capturing the whales' role in our ecosystem in a way that could stir the public's imagination. The real task was to move beyond the academic jargon and tell a human story that was visually captivating and emotionally engaging.

XPRIZE: What are the challenges involved with creating a compelling narrative from scientific experiment and discovery?

KBC: Where do I start? It's one thing to understand the science myself, quite another to translate it into human-speak. You have to think like a scientist and then be part translator, part storyteller. The primary challenge is to fully grasp the life's work of experts who've devoted themselves to the ocean and climate science. Then it's about crafting their story in a way that's approachable for someone who has no prior knowledge without compromising the scientific integrity.

XPRIZE: What impressed you most about WhaleX?

KBC: The commitment of the entire WhaleX team was nothing short of remarkable. Their collaborative spirit in devising a solution that mimics ancient, natural processes left a profound impression on me. There was this moment during filming when the WhaleX team was troubleshooting an experiment. The atmosphere was electric with their passion, and despite setbacks, their resilience was unwavering, it was a microcosm of their broader commitment. 

XPRIZE: Having followed the story of WhaleX, what do you think of the future for carbon removal?

KBC: I am optimistic but aware of the challenges ahead. I envision a future where carbon removal is not just a series of isolated experiments but a core part of our global strategy against climate change.

If we manage to support the visionaries like the WhaleX team, we might just find ourselves in a world where a whole spectrum of carbon removal solutions is funded and scaled up to really make a difference to our planet.

It's a privilege to amplify this groundbreaking work and to play a role in the larger conversation about environmental solutions. I would also like to express my appreciation for the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition and their mission to tackle the biggest threat facing humanity—climate change. This $100M competition is the largest incentive prize in history, an extraordinary milestone.


XPRIZE Carbon Removal is aimed at tackling the biggest threat facing humanity - climate change and the Earth’s altered carbon cycle. This $100M competition is the largest incentive prize in history.

This four-year competition invites innovators and teams from anywhere on the planet to create and demonstrate solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans, and sequester it durably and sustainably. 

1,334 teams from around the world have already joined the competition and added tremendous value to the carbon removal industry through their research and innovations. These teams represent 88 countries and a full range of carbon removal pathways, with efforts spanning air, land, oceans, and rocks.

Be sure to join the conversation on Discord at and get ready to learn more about the impact these teams are making. Or, stay up to date with Carbon Removal by subscribing to our newsletter - the home of future-positive content.