St. Olaf welcomed Lars Midthun ’16 to Viking Theatre to present his documentary film, “The Way North,” on Saturday, Dec. 1.
The film followed the journey taken by Midthun’s grandfather, Norm Midthun, as he flew former Norwegian Crown Prince Olav V in a post-World War II public tour. Norm Midthun, who served as an American-born Norwegian fighter pilot during the war, was granted the honor of flying the Crown Prince down the coast of Norway, from Kirkenes on the Russian border to the capital, Oslo, in the far south of the country.
The film first premiered in Minneapolis in July. The screening in Viking Theatre on Saturday night was the St. Olaf premier, an important milestone for Midthun.
“This is a place I’ve always wanted to share [the documentary],” Midthun said. “I was always imagining this screening to happen. My initial reaction is that this is the full-circle ending I’ve always wanted to have.”
The initial inspiration for the film was found in a scrapbook Norm crafted during his time as a pilot. The scrapbook contained a culmination of pictures and captions detailing each stop along the tour, allowing the family of Midthun to retrace their grandfather’s steps and experience the journey 73 years later.
The film drew it’s plot from this scrapbook. Midthun’s mother and father, Mary and Steve Midthun, along with brother Jens, sister Sonja and younger brother Tors, spent the summer of 2016 following in their grandfather’s footsteps. The family began their journey in Oslo and, in reverse order, visited each location where Norm and Crown Prince Olav V stopped during their tour, ending in Kirkenes.
Through Norm’s scrapbook, background research and interviews with locals, the family learned about the history of the tour and how their grandfather played a key role in it. Midthun and Jens gathered the footage for the documentary, most of it being panoramic views of different locations or interviews with locals or family. Midthun’s personality, Sonja’s songwriting skills and Mary’s and Steve’s cameos gave the entire documentary a unique, family-focused character that allowed the audience to connect with Norm Midthun’s journey.
“It’s important to get the Norwegian perspective on the film … it’s really important for a sense of closure, that I did something right.” – Norm Midthun ’22
Interspersed within the on-site footage at each location were segments of an interview with the main character of the film himself: Norm Midthun. The veteran pilot shared pictures, anecdotes and detailed accounts of his journey with the audience, a first-hand perspective on the events that took place.
This combination of first-hand, personal accounts through Norm, and the family’s documentation of their journey throughout Norway, made the film truly captivating and unique. This is something of great importance to director and producer Midthun.
“It’s important to get the Norwegian perspective on the film,” Midthun said. “It’s really important for a sense of closure, that I did something right.”
Midthun earned this sense of closure through his film. Truls Øyehaug-Hansen ’22, a recent Norwegian immigrant with whom I shared the film, echoed this sentiment, saying that the first-time director did an excellent job at documenting the Norwegian perspective on this period of history and what it meant to not only the people of Norway, but to the world as a whole.
That, to me, was the most important aspect of the film. In the face of the recent terrorist attack in Norway and worldwide feelings of disconnect and hatred, it is critical to go back and learn about this contentious period of history and how people responded.
The story of Norm and Prince Olav V’s journey united the Norwegian people through peace and solidarity – a lesson the entire world should hear and understand.
The film has won multiple awards at film festivals across the state, and Lars hopes to continue to spread its message across the country. This diffusion began here in Minnesota and at St. Olaf, and can only aspire to expand further.
“It’s a really interesting campus of people,” Midthun said. “It’s truly special to have a first little nugget of success in the arts here and close to St. Olaf. I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”