When I was a boy in New York City I remember being enthralled by a book published then by a young Norwegian ‘Explorer’ called Thor Heyerdahl about his travels into the vast Pacific. The book told of an impossible dream of Heyerdahl to drift by raft from off Peru, not really navigating but being carried by natural currents into the depths of the Pacific vastness to ‘discover’, as did thousands of years before by the ancient Tiki people of Peru, islands in the Pacific where they settled and populated.
Heyerdahl was derided and discouraged in his plans to ‘re-enact’ the ancient voyages and prove his crazy theory. Of course he was right and he did completely prove his outlandish theories to be correct.
But what a trip!! And that is the tale this wonderful new film tells…. Of a group of ‘mad’ (or eccentric) young Norwegian men who want to sail into fate and make their mark on the world. And they are led by the biggest madman of all – Heyerdahl – who is proven to be a visionary hero.
It was interesting to me to see this hero of my childhood seen in another – and darker – light. He was a genius and more than a little insane. What a revelation to me after all these years!!!
I spoke to the Directors of ‘Kon Tiki’ Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg in LA recently where we met after being initially introduced at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
They are Oslo residents and lifelong friends who started making films when they were 10 years old.
They began in the ’80’s to make music videos. From the beginning they were influenced by US films which they always liked.
In the early 90’s when out of film school they made TV commercials. They now own Motion Blur which is the biggest Norwegian production house for commercials.
In 2008 they made their first Directed feature, ‘Max Manus’ which was a WW2 feature. It had a US$10 million budget and sold 5 million theater tickets and 1.2 million bought non theatrical access for a gross of US$20 million.
Kon Tiki has had the 2nd biggest Norwegian theatrical run at $14.2 million box office receipts.
Internationally The Weinstein Company has bought North America and the UK all rights.
Hanway the excellent UK International Sales Company is handling 50 territories for sales.
Today the Directors are stretching their legs a bit and touring the states with their families. They are considering work in the US and consider themselves ‘entrepreneurs’. They are currently taking meetings and reviewing new projects. I wish them well, they are very talented and told this tough story with great flair and honesty.
The following text I have edited down from Wikipedia but nerds like me who want more can look him Heyerdahl up there. This below is NOT about the film but reflects the background story a bit, history and fuss that Heyerdahl evoked, a really remarkable man.
from Wikipedia –
Thor Heyerdahl (October 6, 1914, Larvik, Norway – April 18, 2002, Colla Micheri, Italy) was a Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer with a background in zoology and geography. He became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a self-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands in 1947. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between apparently separate cultures. This was linked to a diffusionist model of cultural development.
Heyerdahl was born in Larvik, the son of master brewer Thor Heyerdahl and his wife Alison Lyng. As a young child, Heyerdahl showed a strong interest in zoology. He created a small museum in his childhood home, with a Vipera berus as the main attraction. He studied zoology and geography at the University of Oslo. At the same time, he privately studied Polynesian culture and history, consulting what was then the world’s largest private collection of books and papers on Polynesia, owned by Bjarne Kropelien, a wealthy wine merchant in Oslo. This collection was later purchased by the University of Oslo Library from Kropelien’s heirs and was attached to the Kon-Tiki Museum research department. After seven terms and consultations with experts in Berlin, a project was developed and sponsored by Heyerdahl’s zoology professors, Kristine Bonnevie and Hjalmar Broch. He was to visit some isolated Pacific island groups and study how the local animals had found their way there.
In the Kon-Tiki expedition, Heyerdahl and five fellow adventurers went to Peru, they constructed a pae-pae raft from balsa wood and other native materials, a raft that they called the Kon-Tiki. The Kon-Tiki expedition was inspired by old reports and drawings made by the Spanish Conquistadors of Inca rafts, and by native legends and archaeological evidence suggesting contact between South America and Polynesia. After a 101-day, 4,300 nautical mile (4,948 miles or 7,964 km) journey across the Pacific Ocean, Kon-Tiki smashed into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947. Heyerdahl, who had nearly drowned at least twice in childhood, did not take easily to water, and said later that there were times in each of his raft voyages when he feared for his life.
Kon-Tiki demonstrated that it was possible for a primitive raft to sail the Pacific with relative ease and safety, especially to the west (with the wind). The raft proved to be highly maneuverable, and fish congregated between the nine balsa logs in such numbers that ancient sailors could have possibly relied on fish for hydration in the absence of other sources of fresh water. Inspired by Kon-Tiki, other rafts have repeated the voyage. Heyerdahl’s book about the expedition, The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas, has been translated into over 67 languages. The documentary film of the expedition, itself entitled Kon-Tiki, won an Academy Award in 1951.
Anthropologists continue to believe, based on linguistic, physical, and genetic evidence, that Polynesia was settled from west to east, migration having begun from the Asian mainland.
There are controversial indications, though, of some sort of South American/Polynesian contact, most notably in the fact that the South American sweet potato is served as a dietary staple throughout much of Polynesia. Blood samples taken in 1971 and 2008 from Easter Islanders without any European or other external descent were analysed in a 2011 study, which concluded that the evidence supported some aspects of Heyerdahl’s hypothesis. Heyerdahl attempted to counter the linguistic argument with the analogy that, guessing the origin of African-Americans, he would prefer to believe that they came from Africa, judging from their skin colour, and not from England, judging from their speech.
Heyerdahl claimed that in Incan legend there was a sun-god named Con-Tici Viracocha who was the supreme head of the mythical fair-skinned people in Peru. The original name for Viracocha was Kon-Tiki or Illa-Tiki, which means Sun-Tiki or Fire-Tiki. Kon-Tiki was high priest and sun-king of these legendary “white men” who left enormous ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The legend continues with the mysterious bearded white men being attacked by a chief named Cari who came from the Coquimbo Valley. They had a battle on an island in Lake Titicaca, and the fair race was massacred. However, Kon-Tiki and his closest companions managed to escape and later arrived on the Pacific coast. The legend ends with Kon-Tiki and his companions disappearing westward out to sea.
When the Spaniards came to Peru, Heyerdahl asserted, the Incas told them that the colossal monuments that stood deserted about the landscape were erected by a race of white gods who had lived there before the Incas themselves became rulers. The Incas described these “white gods” as wise, peaceful instructors who had originally come from the north in the “morning of time” and taught the Incas’ primitive forefathers architecture as well as manners and customs. They were unlike other Native Americans in that they had “white skins and long beards” and were taller than the Incas. The Incas said that the “white gods” had then left as suddenly as they had come and fled westward across the Pacific. After they had left, the Incas themselves took over power in the country.
Heyerdahl said that when the Europeans first came to the Pacific islands, they were astonished that they found some of the natives to have relatively light skins and beards. There were whole families that had pale skin, hair varying in color from reddish to blonde. In contrast, most of the Polynesians had golden-brown skin, raven-black hair, and rather flat noses. Heyerdahl claimed that when Jakob Roggeveen first discovered Easter Island in 1722, he supposedly noticed that many of the natives were white-skinned. Heyerdahl claimed that these people could count their ancestors who were “white-skinned” right back to the time of Tiki and Hotu Matua, when they first came sailing across the sea “from a mountainous land in the east which was scorched by the sun.” The ethnographic evidence for these claims is outlined in Heyerdahl’s book Aku Aku: The Secret of Easter Island.
Heyerdahl proposed that Tiki’s neolithic people colonized the then-uninhabited Polynesian islands as far north as Hawaii, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as Easter Island, and as far west as Samoa and Tonga around 500 AD. They supposedly sailed from Peru to the Polynesian islands on pae-paes—large rafts built from balsa logs, complete with sails and each with a small cottage. They built enormous stone statues carved in the image of human beings on Pitcairn, the Marquesas, and Easter Island that resembled those in Peru.
They also built huge pyramids on Tahiti and Samoa with steps like those in Peru. But all over Polynesia, Heyerdahl found indications that Tiki’s peaceable race had not been able to hold the islands alone for long. He found evidence that suggested that seagoing war canoes as large as Viking ships and lashed together two and two had brought Stone Age Northwest American Indians to Polynesia around 1100 AD, and they mingled with Tiki’s people. The oral history of the people of Easter Island, at least as it was documented by Heyerdahl, is completely consistent with this theory, as is the archaeological record he examined (Heyerdahl 1958). In particular, Heyerdahl obtained a radiocarbon date of 400 AD for a charcoal fire located in the pit that was held by the people of Easter Island to have been used as an “oven” by the “Long Ears,” which Heyerdahl’s Rapa Nui sources, reciting oral tradition, identified as a white race which had ruled the island in the past (Heyerdahl 1958).
Heyerdahl further argued in his book American Indians in the Pacific that the current inhabitants of Polynesia migrated from an Asian source, but via an alternate route. He proposes that Polynesians traveled with the wind along the North Pacific current. These migrants then arrived in British Columbia. Heyerdahl called contemporary tribes of British Columbia, such as the Tlingit and Haida, descendants of these migrants. Heyerdahl claimed that cultural and physical similarities existed between these British Columbian tribes, Polynesians, and the Old World source. Heyerdahl’s claims aside, however, there is no evidence that the Tlingit, Haida or other British Columbian tribes have an affinity with Polynesians.
Heyerdahl’s theory of Polynesian origins never gained acceptance among anthropologists. Physical and cultural evidence had long suggested that Polynesia was settled from west to east, migration having begun from the Asian mainland, not South America. In the late 1990s, genetic testing found that the mitochondrial DNA of the Polynesians is more similar to people from southeast Asia than to people from South America, showing that their ancestors most likely came from Asia. Easter Islanders are of Polynesian descent.
Anthropologist Robert Carl Suggs included a chapter titled “The Kon-Tiki Myth” in his book on Polynesia, concluding that “The Kon-Tiki theory is about as plausible as the tales of Atlantis, Mu, and ‘Children of the Sun.’ Like most such theories it makes exciting light reading, but as an example of scientific method it fares quite poorly.”
Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis also criticised Heyerdahl’s theory in his book The Wayfinders, which explores the history of Polynesia. Davis says that Heyerdahl “ignored the overwhelming body of linguistic, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical evidence, augmented today by genetic and archaeological data, indicating that he was patently wrong.”