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FILMMAKER PANEL INCLUDES: Benjamin Ree (Director), Barbora Kysilkova (Cast - Artist), Karl-'Bertil' Nordland (Cast - Art Thief).

31 minutes, $free

2020 Sundance Film Festival – WINNER Special Jury Prize for Creative Storytelling

Left to right: Artist Barbora Kysilkova, art thief Karl-'Bertil' Nordland, and director Benjamin Ree.


Director Benjamin Ree

I’ve always been fascinated with art theft. I think it’s because of the contrasts. The socially elevated art industry with a lot of cultural capital meets “lower-class” criminals with rough backgrounds. These contrasts raise questions that intrigue me. Who are these thieves? How do they choose their paintings, and is it for money or because of a genuine love of art?

That was the start of this project. Me googling art thefts. It’s funny to look back on it now. I knew nothing of what this research would lead to. I read a lot. I laughed a lot. I had meetings with art thieves. Nothing that was worth filming. Then I stumbled upon the story of an art theft at Gallery Nobel in Oslo in 2015. Two paintings from a little-known artist were stolen, and the two thieves were caught and sentenced to 75 days in prison, but only one of them showed up during the trial. Why did the thieves choose these paintings? The thing that really piqued my interest was when I learned that the artist had asked the thief if she could paint him. I contacted the painter, and the story I was about to capture would blow my mind.

I was fortunate because important scenes were filmed already before I began shooting. A friend of Barbora had documented her artistic life, taking photos and filming the making of the two paintings that later would be stolen, she had filmed the exhibition and parts of the trial. So we had the actual audio recordings from the first time Barbora and Karl-Bertil met. We also had the surveillance footage of the thieves stealing the paintings.

Artist Barbora Kysilkova and art thief Karl-'Bertil' Nordland.

When I began filming, which was about the fourth time Barbora and Karl-Bertil met, I did not know that they were going to become friends. I actually didn’t know anything about where the story would go. That’s always my favorite way of starting a project. Knowing nothing, just following my curiosity—and the film ended up not being about art theft, but about an intricate and unusual friendship.

So I continued filmed for more than three years, and it was such a pleasure. My previous project was about the world’s best chess player, Magnus Carlsen. His feelings were hidden on the inside; rarely, if ever, shown. The big challenge was to find a visual form to convey those veiled emotions.

With THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF, however, there were no such problems. The characters are passionate, direct, sensitive and multi-layered.

Norwegian career criminal, Karl-'Bertil' Nordland.

From the moment I began filming I wanted to explore the complex friendship between the painter and the thief. Two questions were the driving motor: What do we humans do to be seen and appreciated, and why do we help others? For me, filmmaking is about asking intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging questions through observing human behavior. I hope I have managed to raise some intriguing questions with this film, questions you will think about long after the end credits.

I have also tried to push the cinéma vérité form onto a new path, with several perspectives jumping back and forth in time, revealing new layers of the friendship throughout the whole film. I have worked hard to find a cinematic form to suit the content for each scene, that reflects the inner state of the characters.

The goal of the film I think the main subject Karl-Bertil summarizes the best: “I hope the film can confront people’s stigmas and remove some stigmas from society. Maybe people can see that you can be a smart and good-hearted person even if you have some trouble.”


Paintings by Czech Artist Barbora Kysilkova


Friday Harbor Film Festival's The Director Series provides movie lovers the opportunity to view impactful documentary films highlighting heroic adventures, sustainable agriculture, marine ecology, social justice, the environmental crisis, and human-interest stories.

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