If I Don’t Do It, Who Will?

A Review of the Norwegian Documentary

‘Sealers – One Last Hunt’


Gry Elisabeth Mortensen and Trude Berge Ottersen’s Sealers – One Last Hunt (Ishavsblod in Norwegian) invites us all on board to finally forget all the stereotypes and see with our own eyes how seal hunters are working close to the Arctic. By documenting probably the very last seal-hunting trip, they explored the world of seal hunters (sealers) and their identity, shed light on the generation gaps within the crew and the impact of climate change on the Arctic, and positioned sealers and seal hunting in a historical context.

Once upon a time, there were tens of boats out on the sea and there was a seal hunter in almost every family in the north. However, as Sealers – One Last Hunt directed by Gry Elisabeth Mortensen and Trude Berge Ottersen shows, this is not the case anymore. Only one boat left with a few enthusiasts, and there is not so much interest in seal hunting, so it is really difficult to find qualified crewmembers or someone who is interested enough to do all the learning. Gry and Trude spent ca two months on a seal-hunting boat and were accompanying a middle-size crew, but they focus on three crewmembers only: Bjørne, the skipper, who had been fighting for this tradition for decades; Espen, the first mate, whose family had many seal hunters; and Håkon, the rookie, who is new to this tradition and is the member of the younger generation.

Seal hunting is without doubt a controversial topic; even indigenous people and animal rights activist groups have clashed because of it. Seal hunting is part of indigenous traditions around the Arctic Circle, while activist groups want to completely ban it – at least commercial seal hunting, as they explain. However, they didn’t really bother to take indigenous groups and their lifestyle into consideration, and their actions resulted in these groups unable to provide their family, as it can be read in an article published on The Guardian.com on the 1st of November. The ban on seal hunting also affected Norway, and more ore less destroyed this Norwegian tradition.

Despite dealing with a controversial topic, Sealers – The Last Hunt manages to make us think by letting us so close to the action and the mindset the hunters are working with. So many might think of seal hunters who are only after the money and don’t care about the animals, but the crewmembers on the Norwegian boat are definitely not like that. They try to kill the animals as gentle as possible, and it must be mentioned that there is not so much money in seal hunting either, so the crewmembers have other jobs to pay the bills. The issue of climate change comes up when discussing the natural habitat of the polar bears and seals, that is the shrinking size of the Arctic ice caps, and human interactions can be also observed through the camera lenses. Leadership and group dynamics, conflicts and smooth collaboration, hard work and leisure time are offered to think about in the context of isolation within a small group comprised of mainly men, and a few women.

The film operates with a linear structure, ups and downs, shocking events and uplifting moments characterise these months, and even a storm puts the crew, including the film-makers, on board to the test. What is maybe the most noticeable when it comes to analysing the cinematic traits of the film is the use of music. Gry and Trude have chosen the music accompanying particular scenes with great sense and measure: the music is there but never becomes too suggestive or manipulative.

Sealers – One Last Hunt might show a topic that is considered controversial by many, but shows it an a way that it evokes questions, and encourages to eliminate the stereotypes and start a dialogue on the sealer identity and a tradition that might not be with us so much longer.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.