“Day’s film primarily concerns itself… with a number of increasingly weary Faroese fishermen and sea bird hunters on whose shoulders the gathering issues and pressures of modern life are weighing heavier than ever” – Wayward Wolf.
It’s fair to say that the Faroe Islands (Føroyar to the locals), will probably always remain close to the hearts of the majority of folk that are ever lucky enough to visit them.
I’ve been enormously lucky to have paid a visit on two separate occasions, and whilst each of these trips produced enough thrills, spills, entertainment and incomparable beauty to fill ten separate holidays, I’ve always been aware that a visitor’s impression of Føroyar – as privileged as it may well be – is probably still a million miles from the reality of living, and more importantly making a living within these stunning islands.
Mike Day’s thought-provoking documentary The Islands and the Whales takes a very topical look at the Faroe Islands and its people.
As far back as anyone can remember, the Faroese people have relied upon the sea and the delicate food chain that it nurtures, for their survival. But studies which have been ongoing now since 1986 reveal increasing concentrations of mercury within this chain, with particularly high concentrations discovered in sea birds and more prominently in the pilot whales whose yearly migratory route, unfortunately for them, passes close by.
With the gravity of this revelation being keenly impressed upon the locals by health professionals, and with the inconvenient truth and implications of what this therefore means slowly dawning upon them all, the proud traditions of hunting and harvesting that are so deeply engrained within the Faorese, are now under serious threat.
This of course will be music to the ears of a whole multitude of pressure groups and environmental campaigners – most notably the activists of Sea Shepherd – whose whole-hearted loathing of the Faroese tradition of whale herding and hunting (grindadráp), is well known.
Day’s documentary not only illustrates the activists’ attempts to sabotage these hunts, but also the levels of hypocrisy and ill-thought-out logic that they then seem to display when proposing that the Faroese people import their food instead; apparently blind to the environmental impact of such actions.
Interestingly, though I’d argue inaccurately, as the grindadráp has gained increasing notoriety, it has been rather unfairly maligned as being the Faroese equivalent of the ritual Japanese combined slaughter and capture of dolphins for the benefit of Sea World and the like, as exposed in Louie Psihoyos’s harrowing 2009 documentary, The Cove. Such comparisons are dismissed by the Faroese who are keen to insist that the killing of pilot whales is a far quicker and more humane process than the ham-fisted butchering experienced by schools of dolphins off the coast of Japan.
There will of course always be exceptions to the rule, but having witnessed them both to some extent, even for a fairly devout vegetarian / occasional Pescetarian such as myself, I struggle to equate the two events beyond their mutual harvesting of Cetaceans.
Day’s film primarily concerns itself, however, with a number of increasingly weary Faroese fishermen and sea bird hunters on whose shoulders the gathering issues and pressures of modern life are weighing heavier than ever.
Indeed, Føroyar is feeling the pinch of encroaching Globalisation and many of the ills that it so often brings, more keenly than most these days. Some even go so far as to suggest that their country and way of life is coming under attack and they display an understandable bitterness about it, especially considering that the increasing prevalance of mercury in the food chain is down to large-scale industrial pollution and very much an issue not of their own making.
But this is a quietly spoken, fairly placid people, and it’s therefore often difficult to gauge the true levels of disenchantment that they feel with regard to such prickly subject matter.
The Islands and the Whales documentary is a very matter-of-fact piece which takes a fairly sympathetic, yet essentially politically-neutral stance on the plight of these fishermen and their families.
The characters are filmed going about their day-to-day activities, engaged in conversations pertaining to the increasing hardships that they now face in their lives. It’s particularly interesting to note that it’s not only the older generation that choose to bury their heads in the sand with regards to the very real health risks of consuming mercury-infected bird and whale meat, but this sense of denial seems to pervade the psyche of the younger generations too. It’s a proud and stubborn stance, but it not only places their own health at risk, but that of their young families too.
Inhabited by a people that are quietly, yet firmly nationalistic, and unafraid to show pride in their heritage – take note please, United Kingdom – there are few places on earth quite so arrestingly beautiful, and awe inspiring as Føroyar.
Traditionally such a self-sufficient nation, the impinging and intrusive effects of Globalisation increasingly prove to be very much to the detriment of the Faroese people. It threatens their very way of life and has the potential to irreparably change the nature of these wonderful islands, forever.
And take it from me, Ladies and Gentlemen, that would be unthinkable.