Scottish cinematographer and director Mike Day turns his lens on the isolated North Atlantic archipelago of the Faroe Islands with The Islands and the Whales, which won the DOC NYC Grand Jury Prize and the Hot Docs Emerging International Filmmaker Award in 2016. The longtime hunting practices of the Faroese are threatened by dangerously high mercury levels in whales, decimated seabird populations, and anti-whaling activists. Day explores the undeniably timely tensions between the environment, health, tradition, and culture.
In their remote home on the Faroe Islands, the islanders have always accepted what nature could provide and been proud to put local food on the table. Because their soil yields little bounty, the Faroese harvest their seas. As a result, the islanders are among the first to feel the impact of our ever more polluted oceans. Contaminated by the outside world, the whales they capture are toxic. What once ensured their survival now endangers their children, and the Faroese must make a choice between health and tradition.
Day learned about the Faroe Islands while shooting his previous film, a BBC feature documentary about a Gaelic island community in Scotland embarking on its epic annual seabird hunt in the treacherous North Atlantic. Like the practices of the Faroese, the hunting practices of the Ness community are a deeply rooted part of their society and culture. They are the last men allowed to hunt seabirds in the European Union and the United Kingdom, and for 50 years that ancient tradition remained hidden and little known outside of the community. In 2009, Day sailed with the hunters and filmed their unique voyage.
The Islands and the Whales shows the unique Faroese community wrangling with the environmental problems we face,” said Day. “I hope the film gives us a chance to take stock of how we interact with the natural world and encourages us not to ignore the clear signs of the damage we are causing. There is a chance to act now before it’s too late. If we don’t, like the Faroese, we all risk putting contaminated food on the table.”
Formerly a lawyer, Day founded Intrepid Cinema in 2009 before setting sail on the North Atlantic to document the last ten Scottish seabird hunters on their traditional annual gannet hunt on the remote island of Sula Sgeir in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. This was the first time since 1959 that the hunters had allowed this hunt to be filmed. The result was his debut film, The Guga Hunters of Ness, screened in 2011 on the BBC and internationally. Day was listed as one of 10 filmmakers to watch in 2012 by Independent Filmmaker Magazine. He was also one of the European Documentary Network’s 12 for the Future and attended the 2014 Sundance fellows program and labs. The film, which premiered on PBS October 9, runs 60 minutes.
The film is offered thanks to a new collaboration with POV, the award-winning independent nonfiction film series on PBS. POV (a cinema term for “point of view”) is television’s longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling, and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
Free and open to the public.