About three years ago, Anthony Pedersen woke up in a Mexican jail.
His mind was hazy from a night of drinking, and his head was cut where he’d been knocked unconscious with a bottle on his way to recross the border.
The Westminster artist was spiraling after a series of professional disappointments and a heated divorce. But, in the midst of the crowded solitude of his cell, Pedersen, the father of a young son, knew he had to reorder his life.
Pedersen, 36, said he was able to convince one of the guards that he’d wire him some money in exchange for his freedom.
He was freed, and never paid the guard. But after that, he started to “point [his] life in the right direction.”
“I started down a better road,” he said.
Pedersen’s journey is the subject of a new documentary, “Octopus Caveman,” by filmmaker Mike May, a camera operator who has worked on “Star Trek,” “Bosch” and “Titanic.”
Pedersen goes by Octopus/Caveman, a name inspired by poetry he wrote in high school. He also runs a Twitter account under the name, which boasts more than 21,000 followers.
The film walks through Pedersen’s personal struggles as well as setbacks he’s faced as an artist.
Like many artists and similarly bored children, Pedersen’s artistic genesis began with drawing in the margins of his school materials.
He began painting about a decade ago. He’s also made music throughout his life, publishing his songs on Spotify and other platforms under his artist nickname.
While living in Banning, Pedersen would regularly visit galleries in Pomona. He had an opportunity to show his artwork to a gallery owner he respected, but it didn’t go well.
“He told me that my paintings were horrible,” Pedersen said. “He said, ‘Unfortunately, people who paint like you will never get better.’ ”
Pedersen stopped painting for several years. After his divorce, he became temporarily homeless.
He eventually took a job as an intake manager for a law firm in Westminster, where he also was able to secure a home.
Pedersen began painting in the shed next to his double-wide mobile home.
“I was painting for myself again and really enjoying it,” Pedersen said.
Then the death of his uncle caused another downturn.
“A death in the family or [of] a loved one — they all hit you differently, and they all resonate with your own mortality,” Pedersen said. “Every time it’s different thoughts.”
The depression, coupled with all the personal and career disappointments in his life, caused Pedersen to contemplate suicide. But before going through with it, he wanted to see if he could find homes for his paintings.
Pedersen tweeted that he’d be giving away his paintings in an art scavenger hunt around Orange County and Los Angeles.
For days, Pedersen hid his paintings in areas like the Huntington Beach and Seal Beach piers, and Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach.
He tweeted out pictures of the paintings along with not-so-subtle clues about their location.
Pedersen met many of the individuals who found his paintings. As he made these connections through his art giveaway, the depression subsided.
“I am okay with not making money,” Pedersen said. “Financial success for some people, I guess that can be a sign of success. But I was so emotionally bankrupt at the time that just giving them away and having people enjoy them was what I needed more than the financial recognition. People liked my stuff and that felt nice.”
Amid the beginnings of the scavenger hunt, May saw Pedersen’s original tweet and decided that he wanted to film how it unfolded. May got in touch with Pedersen, who was surprised by the thought that anyone would want to make a film about him.
Scenes of the art hunt are weaved throughout Pedersen’s story in the film.
May and Pedersen have submitted the documentary to film festivals.
“His story is really something people can relate to,” May said. “Everybody has depression. Everybody has money problems.
“This was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in my career. Whether or not we make any money, it’s a story I am proud of telling.”
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. A caller is connected to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. The call is free and confidential.