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Documentary filmmaker says Strait marine life is unique

A special screening of a documentary which features extensive footage of pilot whales in the Strait of Gibraltar will be shown in the John Mackintosh Hall this evening, followed by a Question and Answer session with its director, Ran Levy-Yamamori.

Mr Levi-Yamamori is back in Gibraltar with his documentary, Bridging Troubled Waters, about The Grind, the killing of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.

Almost all the underwater sequences were filmed in the Strait by Andrew Sutton, one of the world’s top underwater whale cameramen, who has filmed specials for the BBC, WDC and WWF.

An acclaimed filmmaker, educator, artist and conservationist, Mr Levy-Yamamori lived on the Faroe Islands for five years and, through his work with children, aimed to understand both the side of those opposing the killings and the Faroese who want to protect their culture.

In BGTW and the strait, these whales are protected but those that migrate further afield and towards the Faroe Islands will most likely be killed in a process that sees them being pursued by power boats and jet skis until they are driven into shallow waters.

Once there they are hooked through their blow hole and slaughtered with a special knife that severs the spinal cord.

It is because of this that Mr Levy-Yamamori could not film the whales near the islands. They do not survive in the area long enough.

He did not want to show videos of the killings, he wanted to “show the beauty of them in their environment.”

“And they are such amazing creatures. We could learn so much from them.”

He is back on the Rock not just to screen his movie, but because he has a genuine affection for the place and its surrounding waters.

“I'm here because it's one of the nicest and one of the richest places on Earth where you have a clear sea and can see a lot of things that you can't find elsewhere,” Mr Levy-Yamamori said.

“I think that many Gibraltarians don't know how beautiful their sea is, or don't appreciate it enough.”

“I live in both the Mediterranean and not far from the Red Sea. But what I found here is can never be found elsewhere.”

Mr Levy-Yamamori first came to the Rock eight years ago when he was working in Spain for NHK, the Japanese national TV channel.

A chance meeting with the owner of a whale-watching company in Tarifa led him to sail around Gibraltar and witnessing, in one day, five different species of whales and dolphins.

He was in awe of what he saw and it led him to want to become more active in ending the killing of whales in the Faroe Islands.

His research showed him that when an environmental direct action group visited the islands, its tactics backfired and, instead of decreasing the number of whales killed, the opposite happened.

Mr Levy-Yamamori explained that the islanders had lived isolated lives in the sea for over 1000 years and when someone came in from outside and called them barbarians, it was seen as a threat to their culture.

It resulted in women joining in on the killing sessions for the first time and young people who had previously never killed also joined in.
So many whales were killed that the food they provided was more than could be consumed and therefore was wasted.

“I had to think what I want to do, and I decided to do it in my way, so I arrived to work with the children in painting, drawing, observing the sea, observing nature, writing songs, making music, and also letting them see the ocean in a different way to be connected or reconnected because, like everywhere in the world, they have this [pointing at a phone] and they are all the time in it,” he said.

“They lost the connection with the ocean, they lost the connection with the tradition of the place.”

“So I started working with them and they observed everything I said, I didn't mention even once a whale during the first year.”

“But they saw how our work with the children and how the children are happy with me and with the ocean and being free from school and go out which was which is also very important to reconnect with the ocean, with nature.”

“And they started asking me ‘would you like going to this school today or to a community?’ They became very relaxed with me and opened up,” he added.

He is an activist, but he also tried to understand the culture of a place and its people.

In doing so he created Bridging Troubled Waters for both sides, for the activists and Faroese.

He believes his approach is working with not just the Faroese but activists too.

Bridging Troubled Waters will be screened in the John Mackintosh Hall Theatre at 7pm today.

The film runs for one hour and 19 minutes. There will be a short break after the screening, followed by a Q+A with Mr Levy - Yamamori.

There is no charge for entry, but donations to local environmental groups will be welcomed.