Hotdocs, Camden IFF, AFI DOCS, Edinburgh IFF

Director's statement

Director's statement

I first met Faroese sailors during the making of my previous documentary while stormbound on a boat in the gales northwest of Scotland. They told me about their hunting, and believed it was ending, but the further I explored the story the more complicated it became, and it was about far more than just the local whaling. The whales were not believed endangered, and the hunt was deemed sustainable, not hunted for commercial greed, but for food which was distributed communally for free. However, we learnt that a local doctor, now a professor and internationally respected toxicologist, discovered that the whale meat is toxic, polluted from faraway industrialised nations. Coal burning power stations and gold mining accounted for the most part of the mercury and it wasn't just whales that were effected, many species of fish including tuna, swordfish and halibut showed very high levels. There was an important message that these islands and the whales had for us all.

This is part of our Daring Docs playlist.


Mike Day’s impressive documentary profiles the pilot whale hunters of the Faroe Islands. The film has an elegiac feel.... the film has a similar feel to Michael Powell’s The Edge Of The World. Day fills the film with beautiful imagery of seascapes and mountain ranges but the story he is telling is bleak. In future years, his documentary is likely to be regarded as a record of the final days of a way of life that cannot not be sustained.


An enveloping look at a community whose centuries-old way of life may be ending.

Hollywood Reporter

For all the sweeping shots of dramatic Faroese landscapes, it is the small, intimate scenes that are most affecting. Those scenes, in which families discuss their mercury levels around the dinner table and a doctor snips off a lock of a young girl’s hair to test, bring home a sense that this should not just be a battle of ideas, that people’s lives are at stake.

Sierra Magazine for the Sierra Club

The film’s strength is that these Islanders are rarely made out to be villains. Rather they are unwilling participants in a dangerous race to extinction that they had no real part in.

Film Experience

The Islands and the Whales is nothing short of a masterpiece, and a keystone in raising awareness of environmental issues, as well as providing a nuanced and unbiased account of the overwhelming complexity of it all. It does all this whilst also conveying a sense of the natural beauty of the Faroe Islands, mainly through the fantastic cinematography, which throws most of the scenes into an artistic, almost designed light.


A film that is jaw-dropping in its visual splendor.


See more



Art & Images

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