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The seal – or the art of swinging a hook

New documentary provides a credible and fast-paced picture of Norwegian sealing, but dares not take hold of the policy.



The Arctic plays the lead role in the Norwegian documentary Ishavsblod, who recently had a world premiere at the IDFA festival in Amsterdam. Tough guys jump between ice floes, the ship "Sea Turtle" being caught in the pack ice, before it ends up in a hurricane and has to seek refuge in Iceland. There, the skipper picks up a couple of skilled peers, and the crew is suddenly in a realitySituation: The number of bunks is not sufficient, so someone has to go home. The latest turnaround was hardly planned, but must have made the filmmakers rub their hands.

The directors Gry Mortensen and Trude Berge Ottersen wanted to give the sailing tradition a worthy swan song, and joined a two-month cruise in the Vestisen between Jan Mayen, Iceland and Greenland. About 100 years ago there were more than 200 Norwegian sailing vessels, but today only one remains, which is on its last voyage. This is a truth with modifications, but at least it is true that only "Sea Turtle" was catching 2015, when the authorities removed the financial support.

Bloody zen. The film's strongest aspects are the interaction between man and nature, which brings us from dangerous drama to meditative moods. The combination of sparkling scenery and routine work, based on physical craftsmanship and precise concentration, brings us to conditions that may be reminiscent of a zen catch.

A lot of correspondents have been clean in the sea since Brigitte Bardot's actions in the 1970 century.

The film does not hide the bloody sides of the business, but lets us digest it gradually. Clipper Anders Teigen has done a terrific job of piecing together sequences that may look alike, but create an impression of progression. We go from groping shooting training, led by the gunner's inspector and veterinarian, to effective mass slaughter and handling of scraps and skins, and before the blood begins to flow we have been waiting for the violence.

Type Gallery. The storm allows for humor and slapstick, which when the chef has to dry up food that rages out of the cupboard, or the mate flips the plate in tandem with the waves, nonchalant and virtuoso like a Charlie Chaplin. The character drawing is best through spontaneity, and it is a pity that the filmmakers dare not trust this, but choose to add the kind of cliche characters and standard conflicts that Norwegian film is so fond of. Skipper Bjørne appears eccentric and grumpy, mate Espen moody and thoughtful, and First-time boy Håkon meets on the quay with a trolley case and cries at the first glimpse of blood. Getting a clumsy beginner was so important to the filmmakers that when one swept out, the skipper had to quickly employ a new one.

Reality- The drama is clear, even in the friendship between the skipper and the mate. The film ties tension to whether Espen will take over when the veteran leaves. Skipper Bjørne Kvernmo from Alta has been a sealer for over 40 years, but feeds into the summer months by shuttling tourists and TV teams on Svalbard, and begins to think that this is enough. Sunnmøringen Espen is a fifth generation sealer, with six seasons behind him, the last four as mate on "Havsel". Will he also give up the crisis-stricken business, after spending so much time acquiring veterans' knowledge?

Propaganda? The film's biggest weakness lies in the lack of politics. It puts craftsmanship and camaraderie at the center, which in some ways is a strength, but which does not hold true when the film's premise is a threat to the industry. We are told that the death knell could be the EU's ban on import and transport of seal products, and we have an underlying question as to whether seal hunting deserves its bad reputation. The filmmakers deny having made a propaganda film, but it is difficult to overlook some romanticization.

That the animal welfare is taken into account is pointed out, and we see the skipper sending hunters to kill seals damaged by polar bear attacks, because he can't bear to watch the animals suffer. Those who associate seal trapping with luxury consumption of leather may be surprised to see people flock to the quay with buckets and plastic trays to buy seal meat directly from the boat. At a time when agricultural meat production is becoming increasingly industrial, it is difficult to see that seal hunting can be perceived as more brutal. Much of the letter has been clean in the sea since Brigitte Bardot's actions in the 1970s, and there may be reason to ask if the ban is hanging from a time when the sight of blood shocked more than overconsumption and climate threat.

Before the show in Amsterdam, a man was in oil rent and handed out snacks of dried seal meat, which surprisingly tasted mild and was easy to chew – not unlike the movie itself.

Arctic cowboy. The film fades out in a nostalgic feel-good mood, but I can reveal that this was not the last sealing catch in Norwegian history. In 2016, the authorities again provided financial support, but so far only one boat, and "Havsel" won because it caught without support the year before. To the newspaper Nordlys, skipper Kvernmo nevertheless maintained that he would quit, not only because of the EU ban, but because the catch is weakened when the police melt and the hunt must be moved to places with more dangerous weather, while the harness pulls faster south than before.

In the film, the sealers appear as a kind of Arctic cowboys, unseen by a Nordic masculinity that is undoubtedly attractive. The music mixes Norwegian folklore with catchy americana, and although the southern Norwegian harding fiddle seemed a bit disturbing to me here, it is hardly something that will plague an international audience. Before the show in Amsterdam, a man was in oil rent and handed out snacks of dried seal meat, which surprisingly tasted mild and was easy to chew – not unlike the movie itself. Ishavsblod has become a charming portrait of a controversial tradition, but is more about the art of swinging a hook than about the future of sealing.

The film will have a Norwegian premiere at Tromsø International Film Festival January 16-22.


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