Reflections for a film

Photo courtesy SEBRA FILM AB. Steinar Opstad (left) talking with talking Thor Heyerdahl and the TV producer Bent Jonson from SEBRA FILM AB in the front. Taken near San Augustin in Southern Colombia.

Dr. Steinar Opstad reflects on the new ‘Kon-Tiki’ film and on his years-long friendship with Thor Heyerdahl 

On Feb. 22, we will know if the Norwegian film “Kon-Tiki” is to receive an Oscar. The Norwegian team is anxious and hopeful. The film has already been seen by more people than any other film in Norwegian cinema, and the mentions in Norwegian media are very positive.

Dr. Steinar Opstad shares his thoughts on the film’s success, and his friendship with Thor Heyerdahl, the man himself.

“The new Norwegian film success ‘Kon Tiki’ based on the incredible story of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew sailing 101 days across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa raft – to prove the possibility for people hundreds of years ago to have made the same journey – is now in the public eye. The young zoologist, biologist, anthropologist and scientist Thor Heyerdahl from Larvik, Norway could not swim and was not a friend to ocean water, but he was so sure about his theory and vision that he placed himself and the crew on that raft and let wind and currents bring them across the huge ocean. No rescue systems were planned or could be allocated.

“I have also seen the old ‘Kon Tiki’ film several times, the one Heyerdahl made back in the late 1940s. I have heard Thor Heyerdahl himself tell stories from the expedition several times, and had his voice in my memory when I sat down in the local cinema and watched the new ‘Kon Tiki,’ the one now presented for the Oscar nomination. I remember the first ‘Kon Tiki’ film was awarded an Oscar back in 1950. The new ‘Kon Tiki’ is a marvelous film and a story well told, I can only recommend it.

“My relation to Thor Heyerdahl began in 1972. I was a young editor of a professional magazine at that time, and met Thor at an international congress for editors. Thor was the keynote speaker. We became friends from the first day we met, and we worked together on and off for close to thirty years, until just before we was diagnosed with cancer and died. Our last appearance together was at a large symposium organized by Augsburg College, Minneapolis, Minn. in the year 2000. He spoke on the history; I had some visions on the future for cross-Atlantic relations.

“But our relations were initially on the publicity for his many projects, newspaper relations, books and TV-programs. The largest project was the creation of the famous TV series ‘The Kon-Tiki Man,’ which has been sold to more than 60 national TV channels worldwide, and the book of the same name sold and translated into several languages. One of the scenes for this series was shot in Columbia, South America and during that rather strenuous visit we came even closer to each other and I learned more about the man Thor Heyerdahl than I already knew.

“After studies at the University of Oslo and a yearlong expedition to the remote island Fatu Hiva – the southernmost island of the Marquesas Islands, in French Polynesia – and a shorter expedition to the western part of Canada, Heyerdahl was educated as a parachute solider in “Little Norway” in Canada during WWII. He was dropped behind the German lines in occupied Finmark, Norway during the winter 1944-45.

“Heyerdahl has received several honorary doctorate degrees and several honors from scientific institutions all over the world. He initiated and directed several archeological expeditions, among them the Maldivian expedition in 1983, Tucume in Peru in 1989, Tenerife in 1991 and Azov in 2001. I was privileged to be part of some of them.

“Thor Heyerdahl died in 2002, and among many others, the King and Queen of Norway participated in his funeral. Thor Heyerdahl’s archives were in 2011 registered at UNESCO’s register as a part of the world’s memories.

“I had the privilege to travel with Thor Heyerdahl on several expeditions, from the visits to the Maldives to the recording of ‘The Kon-Tiki Man’ in South America. He was a very dedicated man, clear on what he wanted to achieve and how he would achieve it. He was easy to communicate with and friendly. I have only positive memories from the many years we worked together,” says Dr. Steinar Opstad.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 8, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.