The film follows art collector Haakon Mehren who faces unexpected resistance while championing the work of an unknown Norwegian artist after finding a cache of paintings in a barn.
Despite success abroad, the undiscovered work of Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, a contemporary of Edvard Munch, takes nearly three decades to launch in Norway. The painter’s depictions of prostitutes and drunks living in miserable poverty offend the aesthetics of Norway’s art establishment and challenge the canon to the point of sabotaging his rediscovery.
Gaup said that he decided to make the film after visiting an Edvard Munch art exhibition in a museum in Vienna in 2009. “There I discovered some paintings by an unknown Norwegian artist – Aksel Waldemar Johannesen. I had never heard of this painter and got very curious. The museum put me in touch with the owner of the paintings, Haakon Mehren.
“He told me the amazing story about the discovery of the paintings, the rejection of the artist in Norway and about his long struggle with the Norwegian art elite. The real story was unbelievable, and I decided that I had to make a film about it.”
He comments on folks’ reaction to his intention to make the film: “When I started interacting with people and mentioned that I wanted to make a documentary, friendly people warned me. They said things like, ‘You shouldn’t interfere with that,’ and ‘[You are putting] your hand in a wasp’s nest.’ That made me even more curious of course.”
The film, which took five years to make, is produced by Linn Henriksen for Paranord Film. Henriksen’s recent credits include “The Silence in Sápmi,” a documentary about abuse and mental illness among young people in Sápmi.
Gaup’s first feature film “Pathfinder” (1987) was nominated for an Academy Award. His other films include “Head Above Water” (1993), “North Star” (1996), starring James Caan and Christopher Lambert, “Misery Harbour” (1999), starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Glass Dolls” (2014), and “The Last King” (2016).
His upcoming projects include “The Riot,” a Norwegian historical action film chronicling a miners’ uprising at the start of the 20th century, starring Swedish actors Otto Fahlgren (“Beartown”) and Simon J. Berger (“Margrete – Queen of the North”).