Whale hunts in the Faroes cause global outrage. But Mike Day spent four years filming – and getting to know – the islanders. He uncovered a far more complex story
If outsiders are dimly aware of an archipelago of 18 islands in the North Atlantic they probably picture the Faroes’ spectacular peaks or horrifying blood-red bays. The islanders’ annual slaughter of pilot whales, driven by flotillas of small boats on to the beach, is virtually the only occasion when the lives of 50,000 Faroese impinge upon the consciousness of the wider world.
Mike Day’s debut film, The Islands and the Whales, begins with a familiar juxtaposition of these images but soon veers into unexpected territory. Rather than a polemic against the cruelty of whale hunting, this deeply immersive documentary tells of a disappearing way of life, a weather-beaten people who are now buffeted by globalisation – and pollution. Whale meat is laced with mercury and other toxins, and an epic study by a Faroese doctor has revealed how eating it has impaired islanders’ cognitive function, reduced IQs and increased their risk of Parkinson’s disease. This is the big message for Day. “Our way of life is really ending theirs,” he says.