I just came across this footage of Sir Ernest Shackleton's stranded Endurance that was shot in 1915, before it sunk, showing the ship's crew as they tried to free it from sea-ice with pickaxes, and then showing part of the ship collapsing. The film (above), restored by the British Film Institute and edited in the style of a silent movie, was one of the few items Shackleton insisted on saving, along with most of their food.
How is it possible that the film footage survived this ordeal? After the crew abandoned ship, food was the main thing to be carried away by the men, and [photographer Frank] Hurley had to decide which photo negatives and film reels to salvage. "Despite the sailors' perilous predicament," writes the British Film Institute, which restored the footage, "Shackleton insisted the nitrate film was salvaged."
Hurley describes the painful process of deciding what to keep:
"Sir Ernest and I went over the plates together, and as a negative was rejected, I would smash it on the ice to obviate all temptation to change my mind. Finally, the choice was made, and the films and plates that I considered indispensable were stowed away in one of the boats, having first been placed in double tins hermetically sealed.
"About 400 plates were jettisoned and 120 retained. Later I had to preserve them almost with my life; for a time came when we had to choose between heaving them overboard or throwing away our surplus food—and the food went over! All my photographic gear was compulsorily abandoned, except one small pocket camera and three spools of unexposed film. I wonder if three spools of film ever went through more exacting experiences before they were developed."
And in case you missed the incredible news about the Endurance and its discovery over the weekend, here is footage of the well-preserved ship which was found at the bottom of the Weddell Sea after 107 years: