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CPH:DOX 2022

Vincent Kelner • Director of A Taste of Whale

"In the Faroe Islands, they are close to nature and they don’t lie"

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- We talked with the French filmmaker about his documentary and his decision to listen to whale hunters when others are quick to accuse them

Vincent Kelner • Director of A Taste of Whale

Although Faroese whalers have hunted pilot whales for centuries, their clashes with activists are becoming more common. Now, French director Vincent Kelner is trying to hear both sides and not get distracted by one starry cameo in his documentary A Taste of Whale [+see also:
film review
interview: Vincent Kelner
film profile
]
, which just premiered at CPH:DOX.

Cineuropa: What brought you to the Faroe Islands in the first place? The locals seem wary of outsiders coming over to comment on their lives.
Vincent Kelner: At first, I started following the Sea Shepherd crew from France [a non-profit activist organisation for marine conservation]. I came with them, expecting to meet some barbarians. After a while, the team got busy. They couldn’t have me on board all the time. Once I told these people that I wasn’t a Shepherd, just a French filmmaker trying to be as honest as possible, it opened some doors, which was surprising – they trusted me. They were happy I was trying to show both sides. They have been waiting for this film for eight years, but they told me I’ve kept my promise and captured the soul of the Faroe Islands.

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You show them getting very defensive very easily – also during a brief interaction with Pamela Anderson, who comes there to condemn their activities.
They are pissed off by some of the comments they are receiving online, especially from the US. They are fed up with us telling them what we think they should do. They go: “You say it’s wrong, but you have slaughterhouses in your own countries.”

[Traditional whale hunting practice] “The Grind” is an open-air slaughterhouse – you can see what’s going on. Of course it’s bloody, but for them, it’s a normal way to kill an animal in order to put it on their plate. They are angry, saying that others prefer to ignore the reality of what it entails. They think it’s not fair.

When Pamela came – Pamela Anderson, as I don’t actually know her – she represented someone who didn’t take the time to understand the whalers. She didn’t talk to them, didn’t discuss. But when you take the time, they are open-minded. Some of the activists actually made them rethink their techniques and their tools. They don’t mind the debate – they just hate being insulted.

What makes it trickier is that they view the whole process as part of their heritage. Which makes it harder to completely give up, I guess?
They have been doing it for more than 700 years. But I think the foreigners are the ones who see it as a “tradition” – for them, it’s a way to get some free meat. They navigate between the past and the present and sometimes, it’s about money. I hope this film will serve as a tool for them or for the Sea Shepherds to “dispassionate” this discourse a little, and to stick to the facts. Personally, I stopped eating meat when making this film, but I’ve tried whale before. You can’t always hide behind the word "tradition." For them, it’s more of a habit.

I am not surprised by this lifestyle change. You still had to show “The Grind,” however. You are doing it in a smart way, not to scare anyone away.
I am so happy you noticed that. My point was to show it slowly, step by step. First you just hear the sounds, then you have GoPro cameras and look at it through the eyes of a guy who is studying it in order to improve. It’s such a modern way of filming something that’s so ancient. Then, after a while, we are there with them. The big issue is the blood, and those who don’t want to acknowledge the reality of what it takes to eat meat probably won’t be able to watch it anyway. But we think about it more and more, and I could have shown much worse.

What I have learnt throughout these years is that it’s about all of us. Not just about them or the activists. It’s not a “vegan” movie – it’s a tool I want people to use if they are ready to have these debates. Now, the Sea Shepherds are happy with the film, the whalers are happy. But yes, I have stopped and my wife and my little boy are both vegan.

You made a film and everyone is happy? That never happens.
I hope to help society as a filmmaker, which is a very naïve thing to say, but I am not making films like this one every year. It’s a part of my life now. But I really think it can help.

What I found interesting was the scene when kids go to see how an animal is, well, turned into meat. I don’t think it’s that common?
It was an important moment. If I had to keep one scene from the movie, that would be it. My child was born during the making of this movie and it’s hard to think I could show him something like this, in our society and in our culture. I live in Paris, in a big city – some people here don’t know that milk comes from cows! But in the Faroe Islands, they are close to nature and they don’t lie. We are so disconnected – when we are eating a burger, we don’t think about a cow we were caressing an hour earlier. Let’s just stop lying, to others and to ourselves.

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