For the first time ever, a Norwegian-directed cinema documentary has been invited to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the USA. In the Benjamin Rees film, a painter meets the thief who stole her art - and ends up painting him.

Kunstneren og tyven

Some stories are so incredible that only documentaries can do them full justice. One such story is that of artist Barbora Kysilkova and the thief who stole two of her valuable paintings from a gallery in Oslo. The police caught the thief after a few days, but the artworks were not found. Barbora attended the trial in hopes of finding clues, but instead she ended up asking the thief if she could paint him. This marked the start of a highly unusual friendship. Over three years, the documentary followed the incredible story of the artist looking for her stolen paintings, while simultaneously turning the thief into art.

An extraordinary documentary

“We are incredibly proud of Benjamin Ree and producer Media Operators who have entered the tiny eye of a needle to be selected for the Sundance documentary program”, says Kjersti Mo, director of the Norwegian Film Institute. “It proves that the story is spectacular and of course very well told. And that Norwegian documentary is of world-class.”

David Courier, Senior Programmer at the Sundance Film Festival, wrote in his report on the film: “This film is brilliant and so layered. It’s meta heaven. I’m so proud that we get to introduce this extraordinary work to the world.”

Spin-like and formally different

Director and screenwriter Benjamin Ree is a journalist who has previously produced documentaries and reports for the BBC, Reuters, NRK and VGTV. His first feature film, the documentary Magnus, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and was sold to more than 60 countries.

“It was incredible to get the news that The Artist and the Thief will be screened at Sundance”, tells the 30-year-old filmmaker. “What I have been told is that the programmers liked the story being so wild and the film cinematically so different, with a story told from different perspectives and with different moods and expressions for each place portrayed. I wanted to convey the various moods cinematically.”

Read an interview with Benjamin Ree on the making of the film here.

“First and foremost, it’s fun”, says Media Operators producer Ingvil Giske of the honour of being selected for the Robert Redford-founded festival. “This documentary always had high artistic ambitions, and nothing better could have happened for it than to be singled out by one of the biggest film festivals. There is fierce competition for viewers and audiences get and expect high quality films, so to be screened at Sundance is a quality stamp that will make people curious to see it, an invaluable promotion, you may say.”

In competition

The artist and the Thief will be shown with eleven other documentaries in the International Documentary Feature Films competition. It premieres on the opening day of the festival, January 23. Previous films featured in this program were BAFTA winner Senna and Oscar winners Searching for Sugarman and Man on Wire. The Artist and the Thief is a co-production with VGTV and will open in Norwegian cinemas in the spring of 2020.