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  • Nov 3-5

Kon Tiki — 1951

Kon-Tiki is the Acad­e­my Award-win­ning film of an aston­ish­ing adven­ture, a jour­ney span­ning 4300 nau­ti­cal miles across the Pacif­ic Ocean by raft. Intrigued by Poly­ne­sian folk­lore, Nor­we­gian biol­o­gist Thor Hey­er­dahl sus­pect­ed that the South Sea Islands had been set­tled by an ancient race from thou­sands of miles to the east, led by the myth­i­cal hero Kon-Tiki. He knew that the trade winds and ocean cur­rents off the South-Amer­i­can coast­line bear in the direc­tion of Poly­ne­sia. It was Heyerdahl’s con­tention that pre-Columbian Poly­ne­sian natives had reg­u­lar­ly made trips across the ocean in sim­i­lar rafts. To prove his the­o­ry, in 1947 Hey­er­dahl set sail in the Kon-Tiki, a tiny bal­sa-wood raft, suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ing the long jour­ney from Peru to Tahi­ti. Filmed en route with 16-mil­lime­ter cam­era equip­ment, Kon-Tiki was orig­i­nal­ly released in Swe­den in tan­dem with the pub­li­ca­tion of Heyerdahl’s book about the expedition.

In the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tu­ry, Thor Heyerdahl’s name was syn­ony­mous with the word “adven­tur­er.” The Nor­we­gian biol­o­gist-explor­er became world famous after his remark­able four-month voy­age to prove his the­o­ry that ancient South Amer­i­can natives could have pop­u­lat­ed Poly­ne­sia by sail­ing across the Pacif­ic. As the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty watched in hor­ror – cer­tain that Hey­er­dahl was both fool­ish and sui­ci­dal –Hey­er­dahl and his five crew­mates super­vised the cre­ation of an abo­rig­i­nal bal­sa wood raft (made with no nails or riv­ets).  Then, with only trade winds and cur­rents to pro­vide pow­er, they set sail from Peru and spent 101 sus­pense­ful days on the open sea, alone amid rag­ing storms, whales, and count­less sharks before land­ing on the Poly­ne­sian island of Raroia, their expe­di­tion then being hailed as one of the most fan­tas­tic feats of dar­ing and courage of its time.

The film record shot on board became a spell­bind­ing doc­u­men­tary nar­rat­ed by the low-key Hey­er­dahl. His book about the voy­age was trans­lat­ed into 67 lan­guages and sold over 20 mil­lion copies, and the film won the 1951 Oscar for Best Doc­u­men­tary. Hey­er­dahl went on to lat­er jour­neys (includ­ing anoth­er voy­age in the ship Ra) and dis­cov­er­ies, but this unclut­tered black-and-white film deliv­ers thrills all these years after the voy­age. Young explor­ers age 8 and old­er will most cer­tain­ly get caught up in the excitement.

The Kon-Tiki raft is now exhib­it­ed at the Kon-Tiki Muse­um in Oslo, Nor­way, where it is seen by hun­dreds of thou­sands of tourists every year.

Run­ning time: 124 minutes