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The Independent Critic

Mike Day
83 Mins.
Ro*co Films International

 "The Islands and the Whales" Screens at 2016 Heartland Film Festival 

Currently a finalist for Best Documentary Feature at Indy's Heartland Film Festival, Mike Day's The Islands and the Whales tells the story of the remote North Atlantic's Faroe Islanders, whose way of life has always involved accepting what nature could provide via the seas...mostly whales and seabirds. This longstanding tradition is threatened when the islanders are informed that marine pollution has made the whales that feed them toxic, an effect of years of marine pollution from the outside world. 

Day picked up the Emerging International Filmmaker Award at Hot Docs following the film's world premiere, a deserved award for the filmmaker's sophomore cinematic effort. The film is as thought provoking as it is beautiful to behold with Day asking serious questions and remaining surprisingly objective throughout the film's 83-minute running time. 

For those who are aware of the controversies around whaling, The Islands and the Whales may prove to be a challenging view as Day captures what is a cultural and life-giving journey for Faroe Islanders. It is presented honestly, at times graphically, but in a way that is respectful to the islanders' stance that their land yields very little and to fly in meat would pose many of the same risks objected to with whaling. It is, when one truly contemplates it, a valid argument with no easy answers. There are also no easy answers to how the Faroe Islanders must respond once the truth about the toxicity of the whales comes to light. They must, essentially, make a choice between their health and their tradition. 

The Islands and the Whales is, it would seem, almost a one-man effort with Day serving as writer, director, producer and cinematographer for the film. Day's lensing work is quite stunning as he envelopes the archipelago in the low-hanging clouds that always seem to companion it. It's a mesmerizing effect that practically lulls one's senses and creates a meditative aura. There are times, however, that meditative aura works against the film. The Islands and the Whales is a mostly observational film that neither pushes forward an agenda or seeks to sway. In essence, we are being invited into the world of the Faroe Islanders as silent observers of their culture, rituals and ways of life. Even as the islanders conduct one of their whale hunts, think the documentary The Cove, The Islands and the Whales merely immerses itself in the experience without judgment.

Difficult? It will be for some, though it's actually rather refreshing to see a filmmaker trusting the moviegoer to reach their own conclusions as the Faroe Islanders must do facing new facts about their way of life. 

The Islands and the Whales has proven to be quite successful on the film festival circuit and picked up a Scottish BAFTA nomination for Best Single Documentary. For more information on the film, visit the Heartland Film Festival website. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic