Documenting the lives of the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands and a way of life which is under threat from rising pollution levels, Mike Day’s The Island and the Whales offers an honest and uncompromising look at a community struggling to survive in some of the harshest conditions known to man, while also trying to cope with the disappearance of one of their most cherished traditions.
For generations, Faroe Islanders have learnt to make do with what nature could provide for them. Living off the sea and the land, the inhabitants of one of the most remote regions in the North Atlantic have hunted whales and seabirds for as long as they can remember, but have in recent decades come under huge criticism for what some of us regard as a barbaric act.
Today, however, the islanders face a huge threat to this tradition due to excessive levels of pollution which have managed to infiltrate their food chain. The whales they’ve hunted for centuries are now so toxic that they present a clear and present danger to their health. Unable to rely on what they’ve always known, the islanders must choose health over tradition if they are to survive.
Managing to steer clear of any judgement regarding the devastating, and at times disturbing blood-soaked scenes of whale hunting, Day manages to get to the heart of his subjects by allowing them to talk candidly about their own hopes and fears over the loss of their identity, which some perhaps feel is far worse than the prospect of ill-health.
While many amongst us might find some the more disturbing hunt images a little hard to stomach, the film comes into its own in its ability to portray the islands in all their glory. Beautifully shot landscapes and stunning natural beauty provide much-needed respite for those of us who are unwilling to jump on board with the whole “tradition over progress” discourse.
The Island and the Whales does a great job in offering an honest account about a subject most of us would have known very little of, but the film works better when it focuses on the growing concerns over pollution globally. By shining a light on this remote community, Day has managed to inadvertently provide an all too real example of what life could be like for most of us if nothing is done to curb the threat of toxic levels in our oceans. A hard, yet essential watch.