Wednesday 15 June 2016

The Islands and the Whales - a film review

The Faroe Islands lie between the UK and Iceland, and are infamous for their whale hunts. The Islands and the Whales, a documentary film showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival takes a close look at the Faroese culture and the sustainability of the islands' traditions and the wider oceans.

The Faroes are beautiful, the landscape in this film is stunning. But life here is hard, the land is not fertile and the weather is not kind so it's difficult to grow crops or raise livestock. Traditionally the Faroese people have needed to harvest the oceans and that means eating fish, seabirds and whales.

Things are changing these days. The fishermen and bird hunters recognise that populations of their prey are declining, some of them seem to shrug their shoulders and carry on, but others show more concern. A local doctor is carrying out tests into mercury levels in the local population, aware that mercury accumulates in the whales and that is passed onto humans, leading potentially to impaired development and neurological problems. Again some people shrug their shoulders and carry on, while many are reducing their consumption of whale meat.

Representatives from Sea Shepherd visit the Faroes to try to prevent the whale hunts. It's obvious that they have no awareness of local culture or of the difficulty of finding food on the Faroes. Although I have a great deal of sympathy with the organisation, they did come across as culturally insensitive and according to a Faroese interviewed in the film, Sea Shepherd are actually strengthening local opinion in favour of whale hunting as people band together against what they see as cultural imperialism.

The Faroese feel they are losing their culture. The first roads were built only in the 1950s and things have changed rapidly since then. The narrator speaks of the old time Huldufolk, magical creatures that used to live in the islands in the days when the Faroese lived in balance with nature. However since the introduction of electricity, the Huldufolk have disappeared and the old balance has been lost. "Nature used to be big and people small, but now it's the other way round".

This is not an easy film to watch at times, featuring as it does close up scenes of whale hunts and crates full of dead puffins, but it offers important insights into culture and ocean sustainability and it seems clear to me that the local doctor has a better chance of ending the Faroese whale hunts than Sea Shepherd ever will.

The Islands and the Whales is showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival:

2045, 17 June and 1325, 19 June both at Cineworld.

Plastic waste in the oceans is one of the issues that comes up in this film, I blogged about making crafts with ocean waste in today's 30 Days Wild blogpost which you can read here.

You can read my other reviews from this year's film festival by following the links below:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Bugs - are insects the food of the future?

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening of this film.


Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Very liberal Icelanders are utterly set in their belief in their nation's right to hunt whales, I was surprised to find

RG said...

What a place to live ....

Lucy said...

I didn't in fact get the impression that many Icelanders are greatly into eating whales and puffins, that many recognise that these creatures are of more value (for eco-tourism especially) being preserved, and since they are becoming more urban people with comfortable lives they're going off the idea anyway. Ironically the restaurants serving them are often angled very much towards other kind of tourists curious to sample them and to be able to say they've done so. Puffins are now protected and this is, I understand, being respected, the smoked meat still served being old stocks. So I've heard anyway.

One of the animal welfare organisations, perhaps rather in a spirit of provocation, did suggest that eating one minke whale from a monitored and plentiful population, killed by modern harpooning methods, was less cruel and more sustainable than the equivalent amount of animal protein derived from factory farmed beef, pork etc, where more animals would have to suffer for longer causing more environmental damage. It's a thought.

I've enjoyed your film reviews.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I think Faroese culture is different from Icelandic culture. It was very clear from the film that eating whales and puffins is very much still part of Faroese culture, whereas I too, have the impression that in Iceland its no longer still what people really do

I also think that if the hunting is done in a very controlled way it can be sustainable, but too often it isn't done in a controlled way. Plus of course there's something very emotive about killing whales, as they're so big and intelligent