Writing, Sailing and Filmmaking: An Interview with Thor F. Jensen
It truly is not every day that a manuscript lands in our lap that chronicles a record-breaking and somewhat death-defying nautical expedition around an island in the Pacific. It's also not every day that the manuscript in question is also paired with a thrilling documentary film of that very same expedition.
Thor F. Jensen is the author of "Salt Water and Spear Tips", a fascinating memoir published with us in 2020 that tells the story of his experience circumnavigating the island of New Guinea on a traditional sailing canoe, accompanied by three local sailors. All the while, Thor was able to catch this journey on film, and this footage eventually became "Sailau", a forthcoming documentary that provides a visual accompaniment to the book.
Thor was kind enough to sit down with us over Skype recently to discuss what led him to embarking on the expedition, the making of the documentary film, and what he has taken away from the experience. The following is taken from the conversation we held.
A little bit about you; you seem to be somewhat of a natural born explorer, having been born in Denmark, but also having lived in Venezuela and now Australia. How did you end up in these places that are effectively on separate sides of the world?
TJ: I think it’s about chasing your dreams. I always wanted to live in the jungle and experience South America, so that’s why I got a job as an adventure guide in Venezuela. I also always wanted to experience Australia as well, but the reason I ended up there is because of my partner. I’ve been in Australia for about three and a half years now.
Your expedition has made quite the book, and now a greatly impressive documentary film! We have to ask for those wondering- including us- what motivated you to pursue this record-breaking expedition?
TJ: I’d always been fascinated by the island of New Guinea, but most of the stories I’d heard growing up were about cannibals and I wanted to tell a more cotemporary, positive story about the island that challenged those colonial stereotypes. The sailors also had their own agenda, and wanted to inspire the youth to preserve their traditional knowledge.
It's been a while since the book “Salt Water and Spear Tips” was released, so really we’re here to talk about the documentary. Among the many tribulations that come with putting together any kind of film or video production; what was the biggest challenge you faced whilst undertaking the making of this documentary?
TJ: Keeping track of the story, and keeping all the equipment charged and making sure nothing broke down in the salt water. I only lost a week’s worth of footage, which was really lucky. The film footage really helped me write the book.
As you’ve acknowledged through the book, your own socials and the “Sailau” website, the expedition would of course not have been possible without the expertise of the sailors who accompanied you on the journey. We’re curious to know; how did you come to meet these incredible people?
TJ: I had heard of this canoe festival called the Kenu and Kundu Festival, and I went there in 2015 and wanted to learn about these amazing canoes. I met several different sailors including Job, who was a great character and great on film, and he was keen to teach me how to sail. I came back the next year and he introduced me to two other sailors who also wanted to go on the trip.
Having survived the expedition, and put together both a book and a documentary film chronicling it, what would you say is your biggest takeaway from the experience, in terms of life lessons?
TJ: Be humble and listen more to people! That and you can do more than you ever imagined. If you push yourself you can really go way beyond the limit of what you thought your capacity was. The legacy of this whole journey though, is that of the sailors, who have set up their own canoe building school, the first in Papua New Guinea! It’s called Pasana Group, and they are teaching young people to build canoes! It has resulted in Sanakoli being invited as part of a delegation of Pacific traditional voyagers to a marine convention in Vancouver, Canada, and then they continued to Berlin, Germany, and then to Greenwich, UK!
“Sailau” will be released in a smartphone-friendly version in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region so people can share it free of charge. The film will also be touring at festivals in the UK, Canada and the United States.
You can read more about Sailau on the website here, and you can find Thor’s fascinating and inspiring written account of the expedition “Salt Water and Spear Tips” over on our website. Have a look at the trailer for "Sailau" down below!
You can also connect with Thor via his Instagram to see what he’s up to!
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