Benjamin Ree's documentary tells story of artist who befriended a man that stole two of her prized canvases
Fresh from winning four Oscars including Best Picture for Parasite, independent distributor NEON is placing its next bet on The Painter and the Thief.
The company acquired worldwide rights to the documentary by Norwegian director Benjamin Ree, a month after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling. The documentary two-hander explores the relationship that developed between gifted artist Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland after the latter and his accomplice stole two of her paintings from a gallery in Oslo. Kysilkova approached Nordland at a court proceeding following his arrest, triggering an unusual friendship and artistic collaboration.
It all started with me researching art robberies, and we have a great tradition of that in Norway.
The acquisition must immediately place The Painter and the Thief into the awards conversation for 2021 (as premature as that may sound) because of NEON's track record in fiction and nonfiction: the company also backed the 2020 double Oscar-nominated documentary Honeyland, as well as Oscar-shortlisted documentary hits Apollo 11 and The Biggest Little Farm.
Ree attended the world premiere of The Painter and the Thief, along with members of his production team and his subject, Kysilkova. In an amusing exchange during a Q&A following the premiere, Ree explained that Nordland was unable to join them in Park City because he couldn't get a visa, owing to his criminal record.
"He really wanted to [come], but he couldn't get into the U.S. unfortunately," Ree told the Sundance audience. "He asked me to say something to you... It was really important to him, and that is that he is single today and he has even bigger muscles [than he had in the film] and he has some new face tattoos and that you can find him on Instagram under @Bertilizer."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.