‘Kon-Tiki’ film hit stormy seas

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Norwegians have been streaming to cinemas in record numbers to see the new epic feature film Kon-Tiki, about their most famous explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s legendary voyage on a balsa raft over the Pacific. Meanwhile, another drama has been playing out in real-life, as the daughter of a Kon-Tiki crew member claims the directors took far too much artistic license.

The real "Kon-Tiki" crew, with Thor Heyerdahl in the center and Herman Watzinger at far right. PHOTO: Kon-Tiki Museum

Trine Watzinger Narum, daughter of Herman Watzinger, who was Heyerdahl’s second-in-command, claims the new film “gives a seriously inaccurate picture of my father.” The filmmakers, she told newspaper Aftenposten, “have taken huge liberties,” and she thinks it’s “sad and upsetting” that her father is portrayed as he is.

Watzinger Narum has received full support from Thor Heyerdahl Jr, son of the Kon-Tiki’s late captain. He says the film’s character, played by Norwegian actor Anders Baasmo Christiansen, is “diametrically opposed” to the real Watzinger, who was “my father’s second-in-command and his most trusted partner.”

Heyerdahl Jr stressed that the real Watzinger was also the engineer who was behind the construction of the original raft that’s now housed in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo. Heyerdahl Jr said that Watzinger later became a top United Nations official, was highly regarded and “he really didn’t deserve” being portrayed as he has in the film, as a nervous character who raises doubt about the sturdiness of the raft and comes into conflict with Heyerdahl.

The film's version of the "Kon-Tiki" crew, including Pål Sverre Hagen (second from left) who plays Thor Heyerdahl, and Anders Baasmo Christiansen (far left) who plays the disputed character of Herman Watzinger. While Hagen resembles Heyerdahl, Christiansen admits that he doesn't look anything like Watzinger did. All the original crew members are now deceased. PHOTO: Filmweb

Nothing even close to that happened on board during the actual voyage from the coast of South America to Polynesia in 1947, something the film’s directors and producers readily admit. They just felt a need to add some drama to the voyage, not least because it was so harmonious in real life that they feared movie-goers would get bored.

“The problem was that the raft adventure went almost too well,” script writer Petter Skavlan told Aftenposten. “There were no quarrels or conflicts. What we did was necessary to create an exciting film.”

Espen Sandberg, co-director of the film, defended the choices the filmmakers made. “This is a dramatization where we had to make some choices,” Sandberg said. “It’s not a documentary. That came out in the 1950s.” It has since been released recently as a DVD.

Both Sandberg and co-director Joachim Rønning, though, have apologized to Watzinger’s daughter for not getting in touch with her before or while the film was in production. “We unfortunately didn’t know she existed, and are sorry about that,” producer Aage Aaberge told Aftenposten. They invited the 70-year-old Watzinger Narum who lives in Asker, just outside Oslo, to the film’s gala premiere in Oslo late last week. It was attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, but Watzinger Narum didn’t want to come. She maintains, after seeing a special showing of the film herself, that “it’s a shame how my father is portrayed.”

Others agree, including avid sailor Nils Nordenstrøm,  local attorneys Eirik Djønne and Hans Marius Graasvold and journalist Olav Gran-Olsson, who accuses the film of “character assassination.” Djønne went so far as to suggest on Norwegian Broadcasting’s nightly news on NRK1 that Watzinger’s heirs could file suit to stop the film, but that’s not likely.

The film has received good reviews by critics, meanwhile, and set a new attendance record over the weekend, with more than 164,000 Norwegians buying tickets. Never have so many attended a Norwegian film, and that bodes well for box-office receipts. Kon-Tiki will be shown at the international film festival in Toronto next week and is expected to be sold and shown internationally.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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