The Island and the Whales screens at Aperture 2 on April 5 at 1:30 p.m., April 6 at 7:30 p.m. and April 8 at 10:30 a.m.

Everything about The Island and the Whales is compelling, but the cinematography of this documentary based in the Faroe Islands near Scotland and Iceland is truly stunning.

Almost 50,000 Viking descendants live on these oft-overlooked islands, relying on hunting as a way of life and sustenance. Scenes of men catching birds with long nets that look like gigantic, flexible pool leaf skimmers as they crouch on the side of plunging cliffs adds to the film’s instantly mesmerizing effect.

Directed by Mike Day, The Island and the Whales aptly illustrates a way of life under threat. Residents of the Faroe Islands historically relied on hunting various sea birds and smallish, black pilot whales. But with rising negative affects from mercury in both food sources, the film shows how the Faroese are struggling to maintain their traditions and cultural identity in the face of mounting medical evidence it could be harming their children.

Though not the focus of the film, a conflict pitting famous animal rights activists including the Sea Shepherd and Pam Anderson against Faroese whale hunters is illuminating and cringe worthy. The activists — at least in the film — show no concern for the wellbeing of fellow humans on the islands, and one local appropriately calls their quest “cultural imperialism.”

“They intrude on our food, and that’s no small thing,” a Faroese man says.

The problems created by mercury poisoning so far from an industrialized nation serves as a barometer for the rest of the world. But what’s most captivating about The Island and the Whales is its intimate look at the bird and whale hunters themselves, and one nurse’s internal struggle when her husband’s test results return.

Eric Ginsburg

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