Director Mike Day’s documentary, The Islands and the Whales, is guaranteed to stir up some debate. Far from a picturesque postcard of one of the world’s most secluded communities, the film instead offers a glimpse into the heart of an ongoing conflict that threatens to destabilise said-community and destroy centuries of proud tradition.
Focusing on the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, a small archipelago halfway between Norway and Iceland, The Islands and the Whales follows the island’s vast number of whale hunters, all of whom believe that hunting is vital to their way of life. A much-needed source of food, as well as a integral norm in Faroese culture, whaling has remained an annual tradition on the Islands for hundreds of years. But now rising mercury levels in the ocean are slowly poisoning those inhabitants who consume whale meat, a dilemma which hits home over the course of the film. Adding to the threats to this practice are animal rights activists determined to stop the slaughter of the whales through protest and direct intervention, as well the ever present tide of looming globalization.
Day‘s film dutifully explores every side of the argument, stopping short of ever passing firm judgement on the parties involved, instead preferring to observe and offer fair balance to each individual who has a stake in the debate. Animal rights activists, medical professionals, conservationists and whalers are all given equal screen time, resulting in a balanced documentary that challenges the audience to deliberate and discuss beyond the film’s 80-minute running time.
It’s definitely not a film for the faint hearted – a strong stomach is certainly required when it comes to taking in the footage of the whale hunts, which are shown in full. Many will find it barbaric, others may see the local’s point of view – regardless of which way you come down on the argument, you can’t accuse the filmmakers of holding anything back.
Beyond the sumptuous yet dark and foreboding cinematography that captures the doom-laden atmosphere hanging over the islands, the film employs very little in terms of gimmicks or stunts, instead content to simply let the subjects do the talking and drive the narrative. This impartial attitude serves the film well, though the overall lack of any final resolution may frustrate some viewers. Yet the final, haunting denouement goes someway in leaving the audience on tenterhooks, adding a further blur between the black and white arguments that come to the fore time and time again throughout the course of the film.
Offering an interesting and conflicting insight into a secluded society where tradition is threatened by activism, pollution and globalisation, The Islands and the Whales has to be admired in the way it tackles the thorny issue in such a balanced and inquisitive manner. Whichever side you fall in with on the matter, it certainly makes for an interesting watch that will challenge your preconceived judgments.
The Islands and the Whales is in UK Cinemas now –
For more information and screenings please head to their site: theislandsandthewhales.com