The Islands and the Whales
The Faroe Islands (located between Norway and Scotland) hold strong, ancient traditions going back thousands of years. The most controversial is the hunting and eating of pilot whales, lured to the shores by boating battalions. They are stabbed and skinned on the beach, dying the water red. And this doesn’t only upset the animal rights groups. Various researchers have discovered a mercury increase in the water (caused by coal pollution), which contaminates the whale meat. When consumed, it can lead to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s. But the Faroe Islanders won’t be so easily swayed from their traditions.
The Islands and the Whales is rather slow at the start, adjusting the audience to the land, its practices and its people. We gradually come to understand the citizens’ motivations, despite the ethical implications. This does drag on, but once the setting is established, things become a lot more interesting – and the real fun begins when the animal rights activists come to visit. They even bring along Pamela Anderson (who the Islanders barely recognise) to try and prevent the traditional whale hunts.
As with last year’s hunting documentary Trophy, filmmaker Mike Day tries to examine all sides of the argument. He isn’t as balanced as perhaps he wants to be, revealing the detailed and bloody brutality of killing whales using small spears. There’s an unsettling medievalism to these visuals that viewers will be distressed by. However, during a scene where an Islander politely argues with Pamela Anderson, there is an unexpected empathy towards the former – since these activists appear to have no understanding of the Faroese traditions or their economy, which is dependent on whale hunting. Ignorance is turned the other way. Also, many of the citizens understandably view their intrusion as a modern imperialist take-over.
The Islands and the Whales is an engaging, secluded documentary that doesn’t hold back on animal violence (surprisingly graphic for a 12A). Day can’t help judging the citizens, but elegantly demonstrates that the solution to whale hunting is neither easy nor obvious. It’s clear that the practice has to stop, but, after that, what happens to the people?
The Islands and the Whales is released nationwide on 29th March 2018. For screening venues across the UK visit here.
Watch the trailer for The Islands and the Whales here: