Breistein was born in Åsane in the city of Bergen in Hordaland county, Norway. He was a farmer's son and learned to play fiddle in his youth, playing for dances at weddings in Western Norway. Later in life, in addition to directing films, he also performed on the Hardanger fiddle.
When the Norwegian Theater opened in 1913, he started acting at the theater. He became engaged with the new medium of film after seeing Peter Lykke-Seest's productions, and he decided to produce films in a completely different way. His first film was Fante-Anne (Gypsy Anne, 1920). In an interview he stated that "the film was the beginning of something, a Norwegian production with a more national character." This marked the beginning of the Norwegian heyday of the silent film age.
Breistein is considered the most important Norwegian filmmaker of the silent film era. During the period known as the "national breakthrough" in Norwegian film (1920–1930), he directed five feature films: Fante-Anne (Gypsy Anne, 1920), Felix (1921), Jomfru Trofast (Miss Faithful, 1921), Brudeferden i Hardanger (The Bridal Procession in Hardanger, 1926), and Kristine Valdresdatter (1930). With these films, he challenged Swedish films' former position of power and pleased both critics and audiences.
After audio films were invented, Breistein solidified his reputation as a director of the popular films Ungen (The Child, 1938) and Trysil-Knut (Knut from Trysil, 1942). The documentary films Jorden rundt på to timer (Around the World in Two Hours, 1949) and Tirich Mir til topps (To the Top of Tirich Mir, 1952) are classics in the history of Norwegian documentary film.
- 1952: Tirich Mir til topps (To the Top of Tirich Mir)
- 1949: Jorden rundt på to timer (Around the World in Two Hours)
- 1943: Den nye lægen (The New Doctor)
- 1942: Trysil-Knut (Knut from Trysil)
- 1941: Gullfjellet (Gold Mountain)
- 1939: Hu Dagmar (Dagmar)
- 1938: Ungen (The Child)
- 1934: Liv (Life)
- 1932: Skjærgårdsflirt (Skerry Flirtation)
- 1930: Kristine Valdresdatter
- 1926: Brudeferden i Hardanger (The Bridal Procession in Hardanger)
- 1921: Felix
- 1921: Jomfru Trofast (Miss Faithful)
- 1920: Fante-Anne (Gypsy Anne)
- 1961: Aamot Statuette
- Sundholm, John et al. Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinema. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, p. 88.
- "Norwegian Film Will Be Shown Here Sunday". The Bend Bulletin. March 31, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved January 22, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Store norske leksikon: Rasmus Breistein.
- Norsk biografisk leksikon: Rasmus Breistein.
- "The Bridal Party in Hardanger". The Montana Standard. February 16, 1929. p. 6. Retrieved January 22, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Norsk filmhistorie 1920–1930 bonde- og nasjonalromantikken.
- Gypsy Anne at IMDb
- Felix at IMDb
- Jomfru Trofast at IMDb
- Brudeferden i Hardanger at IMDb
- Kristine Valdresdatter at IMDb
- Ungen at IMDb
- Trysil-Knut at IMDb
- Jorden rundt på to timer at IMDb
- Tirich Mir til topps at IMDb