It took 5 years to film and has been shown around the world but on Thursday 29th March the UK finally got to see The Islands and the Whales, Mike Day’s film of the Faroe Islands.
The filming is exceptional with stunning scenery. A feast for the eyes. The Faroe Islands are truly a beautiful place.
Mike Day filmed 5 years worth of footage and did not decide on the story line until he got into the editing room. He has captured a period of transition in the life of the islands.
The story takes us through the hunt for pilot whales and wild sea birds, killing, preparation for storage and their consumption. A tradition now done by a diminishing number of Faroese.
Central to the film was the incredible painstaking work of Professor Dr. Pál Weihe researching the long term effects of eating whale meat. The doctor started his work in 1984 with the intention of proving there was no effect injurious to health but it has ended up showing quite the opposite with the high levels of mercury in the systems of those eating it over their lifetime. His task is a public health education one: to advise young mothers about eating whale meat and the long term consequences of it including to the unborn child.
We saw only a glimpse in the film of the ‘modern’ Faroe Islands where roads with undersea tunnels connect up islands. There were a few shots of the vast container ships and a cruise liner docked in the port. We heard only 1 line from a talk-in radio show from a Faroese opponent of The Grind (the traditional killing of whales). There were lots of excellent hand knits on show and even a few men rowing a wooden vessel.
The population of the Faroe Islands is about 50,000 served by 120 medical doctors. It is striving to sell its expertise in telecommunications to Scottish politicians. It wants to attract the cruise ship industry but some cruise line companies will no longer call in there because of The Grind. An ancient tradition where men in fast vessels drive pilot whales ashore. The men who await in the bay to take part in the killing have arrived there having received the message on their mobile phones. They get to the location quickly in cars, vans and 4 x 4s on the road network. The tradition was once an essential source of food but this is no longer the case.
After the screening of the film there was a livestream Q & A chaired by Jon Snow with Director Mike Day and Professor Dr. Pál Weihe . It was fascinating to hear the doctor talk in more detail about his research and public health work. The discussion also led into the issue of plastic being found in the hunted sea birds and the toxins in the whale meat. Jon Snow and Mike Day were outspoken in their condemnation of single use plastics but were those single use plastic water bottles at their sides?
The pollution of our seas and the damage to marine life is well documented in the film. The Islands and the Whales captures a visceral hunting ‘tradition’ once necessary for human survival but now seen by most European nations as unacceptable. The Faroe Islands, beautiful as they are, are in a transition period. As tech savvy islanders who understand the seas they could be leading the way with protecting the marine environment. If they continue to hunt whales, however, they will find it harder and harder to sell their products, services and beautiful islands internationally.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
The Islands and the Whales was screened at The Phoenix Cinema, Orkney, on Thursday 29th March 2018.