The whale hunters of the Faroe Islands believe that hunting is vital to their way of life, but, when a local professor makes a grim discovery about the effects of marine pollution, environmental changes threaten their way of life forever.
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In their remote home in the North Atlantic the Faroe Islanders have always eaten what nature could provide, proud to put local food on the table. The land yields little, so they have always relied on harvesting their seas. Hunting whales and seabirds kept them alive for generations, and gave them the way of life they love; a life they would pass on to their children. But today they face a grave threat to this tradition. It is not the controversy surrounding whaling that threatens the Faroese way of life; the danger is coming from the whales themselves. The Faroese are among the first to feel the affects of our ever more polluted oceans. They have discovered that their beloved whales are toxic, contaminated by the outside world. What once secured their survival now endangers their children and the Faroe Islanders must make a choice between health and tradition.
Centuries-old way of life at risk in the North Atlantic
The Faroe Islands lie half-way between Norway and Iceland, an archipelago of mountainous open spaces and misty seascapes.
This intriguing documentary swoops in to show the dangers confronting age-old traditions in the 18-island chain.
The rugged men of this place scale sky-high crags to capture sea fowl for food, and they herd pods of pilot whale to a death by stranding and knifing on shore, where the mammals are turned into steaks and blubber for consumption.
Now the populations of birds like puffin and gannet are declining, due to environmental problems lower in the food chain, and news is circulating that there is mercury poisoning in the whale meat.
This documentary introduces us to local people young and old who wrestle with these phenomena with a mixture of defiance and skepticism.
We get to know a Dr. Pal on the islands, who tests residents' blood for mercury poisoning and warns about the risks to children's brain development as well as factor that may contribute to Parkinson's disease. Having grown up on the islands, the doctor has empathy toward compatriots who wrestle with new ways of viewing old ways of life.
This film shows an extremely gory whale harvesting, as men plunge into shore waters with daggers and what appear to be harpoon spears. We watch with a mix of awe and repulsion as they bound into the surf after their quarry, wading through theirs tasks,chest-high in whale blood.
We also observe protests and admonitions of a US-based environmental group, fronted by actress Pamela Anderson, which urges the Faroes to cease their whale predation and transition toward a vegetarian diet.
Members of the audience at one event challenge the outsiders. If the Faroese turned to eating "cow," he asked, "will you leave us alone?"
The Faroe Islands interest me partly because of my fascination with nearby Iceland. I was curious as to whether the native language spoken there -- most of the language in this film is subtitled -- would resonate with the intonations of Icelandic, which I have been studying. At times, delightfully, it does.
There are also many references in this production to the elusive Huldufolk, supernatural "hidden people" often mentioned in Iceland as well.
This film is a creditable introduction to a little-understood part of the world. I hope the uniqueness of the local culture can find a way to survive on rapidly globalizing planet Earth.
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