The Island and the Whales

With funding from Factum Foundation and others, Intrepid Cinema and Director Mike Day’s film The Island and the Whales captures the dramatic sights and feeling of the Faroe islands and their people and the islanders unique hunting activity. Nathaniel Robin Mann (composer in residence at the Pitt River’s Museum Oxford) created the soundtrack using a multi-directional microphone.

Screenshot from the movie

In their remote home in the North Atlantic, the Faroe Islanders have always eaten what nature could provide, proud to put local food on the table. The land yields little, so they have always relied on harvesting their seas. Hunting whales and seabirds kept them alive for generations, and gave them the way of life they love; a life they would pass on to their children. But today they face a grave threat to this tradition.

It is not the controversy surrounding whaling that threatens the Faroese way of life; the danger is coming from the whales themselves. The Faroese are among the first to feel the effects of our ever more polluted oceans. They have discovered that their beloved whales are toxic, and contaminated by the outside world. What once secured their survival now endangers their children and the Faroe Islanders must make a choice between health and tradition.

The project is now complete. The team filmed in the Faroe Islands for four years a complex local story with international consequences and has funding from Creative Scotland, The Wellcome Trust and the film is now being screened worldwide. The film has changed the way the United Nations see this issue – not simply as whaling but as an important subject in the long story of man’s endangering its environment and the very significant unforeseen consequences.

The Faroe Islands and their people

Thanks to support from the Foundation they were able to utilise Ambisonic recording technology for creating synced-to-camera on-location sound. Sound recordist Nathaniel Mann specialised in the practical implementation of Ambisonics at Queen Mary University of London's School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Sciences. He has developed a specialised workflow and a series of approaches, adaptions and techniques which allow the entire 360° sound field of a filming environment to be captured and re-delivered as surround sound. The system allows for accurate playback across any surround sound speaker configuration and as such is future-proofed, ensuring compatibility with future technological advances.These developments have taken the documentary process to new levels of fidelity, capturing audio-visual scenes which truly envelop the listener, providing additional diegetic layers which greatly enhance the viewers understanding of the images. Ambisonics is proving particularly appropriate for rendered complex acoustic environments such as large crowd scenes or marine environments. Of particular interest has been the recording of traditional Faroese ring dances, and coral singing; these activities have now been documented with an unprecedented degree of spatial resolution, preserving these fading traditions for future study.

Having Factum on board as partners early in the project allowed us to pioneer new techniques in documenting the community of the Faroes Islands. The unique Faroese ring dancing and oral history culture was recorded in ambisonic recordings, allowing us to remap this with the help of Harpex and Skywalker Sound into Dolby Atmos theatres.
Mike Day, Director

The production company is represented by sales agent Ro*co Films and funded by Sundance Institute, San Francisco Film Society, Good Pitch, Creative Europe, Creative Scotland, The Filmmaker Fund, Influence Film Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Preservation, and The Danish Film Institute.

The Islands and the Whales premiered at HotDocs 2016 the biggest North American festival and won the Emerging International Filmmaker Award. It has since then screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival and AFI DOCS.
It is the first film recorded with full 3D sound (with vertical axis) and mixed in Dolby Atmos (also with 7.1 and 5.1 versions) to recreate the documented field recordings from source to cinema. Audiences have been reacting to the unique sound experience on Twitter after screenings without knowing the system used.

While The Islands and The Whales may be a visually stunning, aurally impressive technical marvel, it is Day’s sensitivity to his amenable subjects and balanced approach that make the film a commendable success. It’s not without reason that the Day took home the Emerging International Filmmaker Award following its World Premiere at Hot Docs. He’s one to watch.”Ion Cinema

… captures the awesome visual power of the land as sweeping cinematography shows the Faroe Islands shrouded in mist and suspended in time. The film gains impressive access to the community, which proves particularly advantageous for obtaining footage of the whale hunt … its phenomenal sound design, which uses Dolby Atmos audio to capture the full richness of the island landscape. The immersive aural tracks let the wind blow and the birds squawk as the film depicts a land worth preserving. The soundtrack affords a sense of being present on the Faroe Islands and right in the thick of the fight.”POV Magazine

Vistas of the Faroe Islands and their people

The film was screened internationally through the end of 2016 and broadcast in various locations in 2017.
Director Mike Day was supported by Creative Scotland's 'Creative Futures' programme. He was featured in American magazine The Independent's 10 Filmmakers to Watch list of 2012.Nathaniel Mann is a founder member of Dead Rat Orchestra and a sound Artist. His most recent production was a commission for the Be Open: Sound Portal, designed by ARUP as the part of London Design Festival 2012.