Do you know where the Faroe Islands are? Hint: They’re not the Farallon Islands, a couple dozen ocean miles from San Francisco.
A self-governing territory of Denmark, the Faroe Islands peak above the Atlantic Ocean closer to Iceland and Scotland, though hundreds of miles from them as well. The documentary “The Islands and the Whales” displays an isolated culture and beauty that suggests why tourism is a modest second-largest economic pillar of these land forms.
No surprise, the economic mainstay is fishing. Its most troubling visibility is its perennial roundup and killing of pilot whales. The film doesn’t particularly examine how significantly commercial whaling figures into its subsistence tradition, however it does document the Sea Shepherd’s active presence (A spinoff from Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd takes commerce in ocean mammals very seriously, aggressively jabbing at violators such as Japan and Norway.)
What makes “The Islands and the Whales” a richly layered experience of this windy, rainy, gray archipelago is the personal feel for the 50,000 people that call the Faroe Islands home. It’s about a culture that routinely eats whale meat and whale blubber (and wild birds), a culture that does so while acknowledging that this diet delivers threatening levels of mercury into their families’ body tissue. While pollution and modernity increasingly encroaches upon them, they still harken back to mythic Huldufolk that supposedly have retreated to the hills.
See the fresh topicality and a western flavor of exotic tone in “The Islands and the Whales.”