Skywalker Sound pioneer new technique for Faroe Whale-hunt documentary

The Island and the WhalesThe Island and the Whales

The Grindadráp is a 1,000-year-old tradition in the Faroe Islands; where the local community usher pilot whales to their shores and kill them for food. The biggest of the annual hunts will be well known to many for the brutal images that emerge online, often depicting the blood red sea and whale carcasses on the shore.

Documentarian and former lawyer Mike Day spent 4 years filming the local community and the campaigners who descend upon Faroes to protest against the grindadráp.

The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands

The Faroes is an archipelago of 18 volcanic islands in the north Atlantic ocean, almost equidistant between Norway, Iceland and the tip of northern Scotland. The land on these rocky islands yield little, so the Faroese have traditionally harvested the seas and skies to put food on the table. However, this tradition is under threat, not necessarily because of protesters against the grindadráp, but because of the increase of pollution, contaminating the whales and birds that have sustained the islanders all their lives.

Moviescope asked Day how he managed to get the access and trust of the Islanders: “I filmed The Guga Hunters of Ness, which broadcast on BBC Scotland, and met Faroese sailors while filming that on the Isle of Lewis. The Faorese sailors I met were interested in that film, and I think being able to show the only other gannet hunting in Europe and how we portrayed that helped a lot. There was of course a lot of local wariness to the hunts being filmed, it’s a highly sensitive subject and the coverage previously had been extremely anti-Faroese and the discussion was fixated on the anti-whaling debate. I hope with what we’ve done there is something all sides can take away from the film, trying to foster understanding over simple demonising, which seems a worrying trend at the moment. All sides should be standing together to tell the world the seas are so polluted all life is suffering from this, marine life and human health alike.”

“The reaction from those who have seen the film has been positive in the Faroes. No one there is under any illusions about how unpopular this hunting is, but the film portrays it as it is, it’s my job to bring the audience to that world and to feel it for themselves, not to sensationalise it, so I think that’s new to the Faroese. Also the film is not focused on the anti-whaling conflict, which I think had overshadowed the warning this story has for us all, that the oceans are so polluted it is harming our health and must be stopped before it’s too late. Not only the whales, but many of the fish that we eat, are dangerously toxic with mercury and PCB, and that comes from us all, and affects us all. This year the UN will try and ratify a treaty to address this, and we hope the film helps to show what happens when we don’t listen to the very clear messages the natural world is giving us.

Day worked with George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound to pioneer a groundbreaking sound technique, and with Dolby to promote it, and with Harpex who have developed software especially for this film to translate the ambisonic recordings from a specially designed tetrahedral mic, to Dolby Atmos.

It is the first film to use ambisonic sound recordings at source and recreate them in cinemas in Dolby Atmos, a system using 128 speakers including vertical channels. This means that cinema audiences will experience the sound as it was in the field surrounded by the documented soundscape.

Director Mike Day added, “This technique adds another tool for us to transport audiences into the world on the screen. It’s been great to hear audience reactions to it, many not knowing the system was being used, but feeling its effect. It gives another reason to see the film on the big screen, and that’s always a good thing!”

“The sound we used helps add a layer to transport the audience into the world on the screen. We used an ambisonic microphone which us allows us to remap the full sphere of sound in the field to systems including the new Dolby Atmos system with vertical and surround sound reproduced in the cinema. It worked, subtle but present, not a fireworks FX, but it takes you there to the windswept cliffs”

The Island and the Whales

The Island and the Whales

The film will make its European Premiere at the directors hometown Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 17th. Day was awarded the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the recent Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, after its World Premiere.

The film will be presented at the EIFF on Friday 17th June in Dolby ATMOS. The Director and a delegation of the Faroese community will be present for a Q&A after the screening.

Visit the film’s facebook page for more information


The Islands and the Whales Trailer from Intrepid Cinema on Vimeo.

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