The documentary filmmaker Vincent Kelner’s latest project “A Taste of Whale” opens in darkness, broken by the sounds of loud splashes, men yelling and the high-pitched clicks and whistles of an aquatic mammal in distress. A prodding quote attributed to Paul McCartney appears onscreen: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”
Provocative as it may be at first glance, “A Taste of Whale,” in theaters and on demand, offers a refreshingly multidimensional take on the controversy around whale hunting in the Faroe Islands, a tradition that dates back to the 9th century. Central to it is the hunting season that is referred to as the grind, in which large pods of pilot whales are herded into shallow bays by Faroese whalers and slaughtered en masse for food. (Any meat not eaten immediately by the islanders is preserved through salt-curing.) While pilot whales are not considered to be a threatened species, the hunts have drawn international criticism from animal welfare groups such as the Sea Shepherd, who liken the grind to murder and argue that the practice is unnecessarily cruel.
Kelner clearly harbors his own reservations about the hunt, or at least its optics; if there’s any explicit messaging to be found here, it’s that the Faroese killing of whales is no more gruesome than what one may find by peeking inside any slaughterhouse around the world. Indeed, the Faroese villagers interviewed for the film say just as much. Kelner highlights the locals fishing in the bay and dispatching shorebirds with their bare hands, showing a desire to play a direct role in where their meat comes from rather than leave it up to an opaque global food system. Yet he’s equally sympathetic to the Sea Shepherd leaders who argue that meat shouldn’t be eaten at all, and not just out of compassion for the animals. By the third act, Kelner throws a whole new wrench into the debate with the appearance of a local environmentalist, who explains how there are more sinister things polluting the Faroese waters than whale’s blood.
A Taste of Whale
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Amazon, Apple TV and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.