Although it came out in February I’ve only just now seen the documentary Together in Isolation: The lockdown of the Faroe Islands by polish filmmaker Kuba Witek. This half-hour film draws upon diverse interviews with politicians, artists, musicians, doctors, and clergy to tell the story of how the Faroe Islands dealt with the threat of COVID-19 and the unique challenges of lockdown within an isolated island nation.
The film 1700 Meters from the Future, by Ulla Rasmussen, is a feature length documentary from 1990 set in the village of Gásadalur in the Faroe Islands. Tucked into a remote valley in the northwest corner of Vágar island, Gásadalur is surrounded by steep fells on three sides and a treacherous ocean cliff on the fourth. For centuries, the population of the village held steady at 60 people, but by the time of the film it had declined to only 16 adults and a 9-year-old boy. The title refers to the plan to build a tunnel through the Knúkarnir mountain, connecting Gásadalur to the village of Bøur. Interviews with townspeople, all of them multi-generational residents, convey their hopes for this connection to the outside world, while highlighting concerns about change, long-standing economic struggles, and challenges caused by Faroese land use policies.
You could say that Tim Severin is a historical re-enactor, but that would conjure all the wrong images, of renaissance fairs and Colonial Williamsburg. At nearly 80 years old, his accomplishments are better described as experiential archaeology, recreating legendary journeys to prove they could have happened. His historical adventures are based on years of upfront study, working with scholars to decipher ancient texts and find period-appropriate technology and materials. I only recently learned about Severin’s work, through his 1978 book that documents a fascinating early project called The Brendan Voyage.
Islands aren’t always synonymous with isolation, and a tightly grouped archipelago can create a shared sense of identity. Sometimes that relationship results in a hierarchy, where islands like Streymoy or Eysturoy in the Faroe Islands are referred to as the “mainland” when compared with the smaller outliers. In other places, like the Aleutian Islands, the chain of siblings is so long that they’re often lumped together as a whole.
In contrast, the tiny island of Sula Sgeir sits truly alone. Technically part of the British Isles, it’s separated from its nearest inhabited neighbor by 40 miles of rough North Atlantic sea. But despite that distance there is a strong tie between the island and the distant village of Ness. Sula Sgeir is a plentiful breeding ground for northern gannets — and every year, for centuries, a small group of men spends two weeks on the island hunting them.
Competition between streaming video services has become intense, with each company struggling to define its unique value as movie studios pull their content and create their own platforms. I primarily watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and while I prefer the original content on Netflix I love how Amazon has embraced the long tail. You may not find your favorite blockbuster steaming on Prime, but you will find deep cuts including foreign language shorts and incredibly niche British television. As someone with a taste for the unusual and oddly specific, I love mining this obscure archive.
My latest obsession is the prolific genre of motorcycle adventure videos, and there are countless to choose from. Their abundance no doubt stems from their ease of funding: sending a few guys off with bikes and cameras won’t guarantee a huge success, but it won’t set you back much either. I’ve watched a group trek from London to Beijing, a pair of riders circumnavigate India, and most recently enjoyed GlobeRiders: Iceland Expedition a month-long motorcycle trip across Iceland.
The shoreline of the Faroe Islands is almost entirely composed of steep and dangerous cliffs. For most of us, these dramatic rock faces are something to take in at a distance, but traditionally they’ve been active sites of hunting and foraging. Fowlers climb up and down, using massive ropes to reach fulmar and puffin nests. Although no longer a necessary food source, collecting eggs and netting birds on these cliffs is an important part of Faroese heritage. A couple of years ago, the clothing brand North Face sponsored a trio of professional climbers on a trip to Cape Enniberg, one of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. The resulting movie contains beautiful scenes of the Faroe Islands and touches on some of the traditional climbing practices.
We only had a week in the Faroe Islands, when we visited in summer of 2018, but I gained a good sense of the country by traveling to its farthest corners. We went to places at the extents of the cardinal directions, like the westernmost island of Mykines, home to a single village where fewer than a dozen people live year-round. We visited Suðuroy, the southernmost island, plunging downward through mountains to find the comparative metropolis of Sumba, housing 240 people at the bottom tip of the country. The northernmost settlement is Viðareiði, nestled in a mountain basin on the island of Viðoy, with stunning views of its neighboring isles to the west, their finger-like tips extended in procession. All of these are remote places, but nothing compared to the one point on the compass we didn’t manage to reach: the easternmost village of Hattarvík, on the island of Fugloy.