Mike Day's film follows locals on the Faroe Islands as they confront the changing reality of whaling in the 21st century, in which toxic pollution has left their traditional source of sustenance unsafe.
ABOUT THE FILM
In their remote home in the North Atlantic, the Faroese have always eaten what nature could provide, proud to put local food on the table. The land yields little, so they have always relied on harvesting their seas.
Hunting whales and seabirds kept them alive for generations, and gave them the way of life they love; a life they would pass on to their children. But today they face a grave threat to this tradition.
The Faroese are among the first to feel the effects of our ever more polluted oceans. They have discovered that their beloved whales are toxic, contaminated by the outside world. What once secured their survival now endangers their children and the Faroese must make a choice between health and tradition.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR – MIKE DAY
Mike Day is a Scottish director and cinematographer. Formerly a lawyer, Mike was listed as one of the ’10 Filmmakers to watch in 2012’ by Filmmaker Magazine.
“The Island and the Whales” has won numerous awards including the HotDocs Emerging International Filmmaker Award and the DOC NYC Grand Jury Prize. It was also nominated for Best Documentary at the 2016 BAFTA Scotland awards and the 2018 Emmy Awards.
What inspired you to choose this topic?
It was initially a local story, about a clash of cultures over the controversy of whale hunting, but it quickly grew into a question of how we all live with the natural world, it is us after all that have polluted the seas.
How did you find the subjects for your film?
I met a group of Faroese sailors on a 125 year old sailing fishing vessel in the islands of Scotland while I was making my previous documentary, The Guga Hunters of Ness for the BBC. They had sailed past the remote rocks in the North Atlantic where we were filming, enduring hurricanes and gales. They thought if we were crazy enough to do that they should invite us to film their traditions.
What particular obstacles did you face while making the film?
Many Faroese questioned our agenda, the islands were used to confronting hostile anti-whaling groups, so they thought that would be our angle, so gaining the level of trust needed took time. Logistically, we never knew when the whales would appear, if at all, or how the crowds would react to the camera in the heat of the moment. We also filmed a lot on boats in bad weather which is always an extra challenge.
Given the sensitivity of criticising the cultural traditions of the Faroese on one hand, and exposing the environmental and health issues that have been raised by Doctor Pál Weihe and activist groups like Sea Shepherd, how do you as a director remain balanced in representing the issue of whaling in the Faroes Islands?
I wasn't criticising the Faroese or the whale hunt, the criticism was levelled at all of us for ignoring the messages from the natural world that we are causing horrendous damage. So, the balance between those two sides is of minimal importance. The activists are not really part of the bigger story, but perhaps more to do with where we fight our battles. The whales were one of the messengers of the warnings, and reminders of the dangers of ignorance and denial in the face of the environmental catastrophe we are quickly creating all over the planet. This united all sides. Anti-whalers and whalers alike supported the message of the film, which goes to illustrate just how severe the problem is.
The alarming news about the environmental catastrophe we’re facing has not been met with any adequate response from the world’s governments. How do you see your work contributing to the debate on the current environmental crisis?
The story shows tangible and undeniable evidence of what we are doing to the environment. The mercury and PCB is in the whales, the plastic is in the stomachs of the birds, the catastrophic collapse of native species, these disasters are all man made, these are not theories, they are recorded facts, and so I hope it wakes up those who want to stupidly and recklessly blanket themselves in the comfort of denial that we are not responsible, and that people and governments wake up to the fact that radical action is required immediately, because this is not only decimating the wildlife but also damaging our health.