Not everyone agrees that the new film “Kon-Tiki” should be Norway’s candidate at the Academy Awards in Hollywood, but Oslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum is riding high on its wave of success. The interest it’s set off among the public is resulting in a badly needed burst of visitors at the museum that had been operating at a loss for the second year in a row.
Museum officials had hoped for positive effects from the film and can now confirm a steady stream of visitors and higher admission revenues. The museum also was ready to roll out new programs timed to the film’s release and has been promoting and showing the original documentary that actually won an Academy Award nearly 60 years ago. That’s helped attract a record number of visitors, just as the film sets attendance records of its own.
The surge of interest is warmly welcome at the museum, which is owned by a private foundation and receives no public funding. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported in July, before the film premiered in August, that the museum dedicated to Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s famous voyage on the raft Kon-Tiki recorded an operating loss last year of nearly NOK 1 million. Interest paid on considerable bank deposits reduced the loss, wrote DN, but the museum on Oslo’s Bygdøy Peninsula nonetheless ended with a deficit after also recording a loss in 2010.
The museum registered a slight increase in visitors last year, reported DN, and the loss was mostly caused by higher pension costs in 2011. More entrance fees paid by visitors are nonetheless needed by those who want to keep Heyerdahl’s expeditions and vision alive.
“The new film about Kon-Tiki has contributed to more attention around Thor Heyerdahl and his expeditions,” museum marketing boss Halfdan Tangen Jr told newspaper Aftenposten a week after the film premiered in Norway. The museum, eyeing a 20 percent jump in ticket sales, also experienced a wave of renewed interest after Heyerdahl died in 2002. Now many Norwegians simply want to learn more, see the original Kon-Tiki raft and, perhaps, set the record straight.
That’s because controversy has been stirred by the artistic license used in the film. It gave, for example, an admittedly inaccurate characterization of Heyerdahl’s right-hand man Herman Watzinger and incorrectly portrayed residents of the South Pacific island of Fatu Hiva where Heyerdahl and his first wife Liv first conducted research. The film shows local residents dressed in stereotyped native costumes instead of the conventional shirts and western clothing they actually wore.
The film won ovations from many Norwegian critics when it opened in August and last week was chosen to be Norway’s entry for best foreign film at the next Academy Awards, but that wasn’t greeted with the same enthusiasm. Author and film consultant Erland Loe is among those criticizing the choice because he thinks the film tries to resemble Hollywood films “but only succeeds half-way.” The choice was also debated on social media as “predictable” and “disappointing,” with some claiming “it will never win an Oscar.” The film won mixed reviews from critics at the recent film festival in Toronto.
Meanwhile, the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo isn’t the only institution to be riding a wave of popularity. The Væktarstua Hotel in Sør-Trøndelag, where Heyerdahl wrote much of his best-selling book about the Kon-Tiki expedition, opened its own exhibition last summer, is arranging lectures on Heyerdahl’s ties to the hotel and even is serving the fish stew eaten by Kon-Tiki crew members since it has the exclusive recipe. Visitors can also order a glass of Kon-Tiki wine or Thor Heyerdahl Cognac, reports Aftenposten.
Heyerdahl’s childhood home at Steingata 7 in Larvik has also opened its doors to the public and received nearly 700 visitors during its summer season that recently ended. The home remained in private ownership after Heyerdahl’s father died in 1957, but was purchased by the municipality in 2007 with the goal of restoring it and its garden to how they were during the explorer’s residence there from 1914 until 1933. The Larvik Historic Society (Larvik Historielag) has chosen to focus on Heyerdahl’s life while growing up.
“Everyone knows what he did afterwards,” Arnfinn Løvaas, leader of Larvik Historielag, told newspaper Dagbladet.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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