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EDITIONS
Friday, 11 December, 1998, 16:58 GMT
Antarctic epic returns to the screen
ship
The Endurance: Film went down with her, but was rescued
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Poignant footage of a Sir Ernest Shackleton's remarkable Antarctic expedition has been shown again more than 80 years after it was filmed.

Screened at the National Film Theatre, "South" shows in vivid and moving detail what happened to Shackleton and his companions.

The film was originally made in 1919, three years after Shackleton's expedition ended.

It was shown in London the following year, when the explorer lectured twice a day at the Philharmonic Hall.

But it has never been shown again since.

"South" was restored by the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute, a task which took four years.

It has been transferred from the old nitrate film stock onto modern celluloid.

Working in the dark

The restorers say their hardest job was trying to work out the exact order of the many feet of footage and the hundreds of still photographs.

They say there was no reliable guide to the length or order of the original film, which now runs for 88 minutes.

Shackleton had planned to lead the expedition, which set out in 1914, across Antarctica by way of the South Pole.

bucket
A grim time, but all came home
But his ship, the Endurance, was trapped in pack ice and drifted helplessly for eight months before sinking in November 1915.

The party spent another five months stranded on ice floes before they reached relative safety on Elephant Island.

Shackleton and five of his crew then set off by boat for help in South Georgia, a further 800 miles away.

After no fewer than four rescue attempts, every member of the expedition returned home safely.

The footage of the expedition was shot by an Australian cameraman, Frank Hurley.

Icy dives

Not only did he shoot the events of those harrowing months, but he also ensured the survival of his record.

When the Endurance went down Hurley was ordered to abandon his negatives and films, which were stored in lead-lined cans in a refrigerator.

Many of the photographic plates were lost in the wreck, and others subsequently.

dog
A vivid record of a long-ago epic
But Hurley dived several times into the freezing water to rescue what he could, and then preserved it throughout the grim months on the ice.

That was not the end of his problems, though. The backers who had financed Shackleton's expedition felt the footage was not commercial enough.

So they sent Hurley back to Antarctica to get footage of penguins and elephant seals to make the film more appealing.

"South" will be shown at the National Film Theatre a second time, on 20 December.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Correspondent Bob Sinkinson reports
"Shackleton's heroic efforts to save his men have been recorded for posterity"
See also:

31 Mar 98 | Science/Nature
13 Oct 98 | Science/Nature
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