The Islands and the Whales (2017) ****

March 19th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director/DoP:Mike Day | Doc | 84′

This breathtaking but often heart-rending eco-doc about the Faroe Islands connects to the increasingly urgent global narrative of survival for a community of around 48,000 people whose traditional food source for the past thousand years is now under threat from environmental realities.

Filmmaker and photographer Mike Day’s film has an atavistic quality that reflects both the magnificence of its setting and also the enormity of its subject-matter. But it’s not an easy film to watch. Images of 15-foot pilot whales, some of them babies, being driven into the shallows where they are dragged ashore squealing desperately before being hacked to death on the beaches as the sea turns red with blood, along with those of gannet chicks looking up appealingly as their remote roosts are ambushed and their parents are strangled and slaughtered will remain in the memory for a long time afterwards. But that’s not the point here.

Ironically this age-old tradition is not being threatened by PETA or direct human interference but by coal-burning activities that generate electricity and pollute the surrounding sea with mercury that gradually enters the food chain. Failing whaler Pal Weihe has turned his efforts to monitoring the locals toxicity levels and trying to encourage them to pursue an alternative diet. But nothing grows on the islands, so people continue to eat blubber and whale meat and endanger their children’s lives.

All this is enriched with impressive images of the islander’s highly traditional daily lives. Seeing them setting out in their boats in the windswept seas, or silently plundering clifftop bird nests in the hours of darkness, makes for extraordinary viewing, but are not for the feint of heart, or animal-lovers who might prefer to see their food killed in a more humane way by these otherwise thoughtful and quietly-spoken, fresh-faced islanders in their Fair-Isle sweaters. Interweaving their contemporary story is a more ancient thread voiced by an old man who refers to the legend of the “huldufolk”, a mythical people who disappeared with the advent of electricity to the islands. Perhaps history will eventually repeat itself and return these people to their past. MT

THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES is released in UK cinemas 29th March





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