First underwater movie [Filmed on scuba]
Last updated: June 14, 2018 at 5:02 am
Épaves | 1943 — Jacques-Yves Cousteau directed and produced Épaves (Shipwrecks), the first underwater movie filmed by scuba divers. Filming began off the southern coast of France on July 14, 1943. The dive team, which included Cousteau, Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas, was equipped with the newly invented Cousteau-Gagnan Aqua-Lung, monogoggles, and an early fin design by Louis de Corlieu. In the midst of war rationing, Cousteau could not find blank reels of movie film, so he had to stitch several rolls of camera film together which he used in a Le Blay camera placed inside a custom housing. The film shoot lasted five months during which the divers explored 15 wrecks between Marseille and Cavalaire at depths up to 15 m (50 ft) including the Boeuf, Chellah (liner), Dalton, Ferrando, Iéna (battleship), Mars, Michel-Say, Polyphène, Ramon-Meumbru, Tozeur, and the Ville de Grasse. A traditional hardhat diver was filmed using an underwater blowtorch on the wreck of the Chellah. Although completed—without sound—in 1943, the final version of the 28-minute documentary narrated by Cousteau with music by Pierre Capdevielle, won an award (Prix du Comité International pour la diffusion des Arts et des Lettres) after its postwar release at the inaugural edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 1946. That same year, Cousteau and Tailliez presented Épaves to Admiral Lemonnier, who then charged them with creating the French Navy’s Groupe de recherches sous-marines (GRS) (Underwater Research Group) at Naval Base Toulon.
Although Épaves was the first movie filmed by divers on scuba, it followed two movies filmed by freedivers: Hans Hass‘ Pirsch unter Wasser (released in 1942), and Cousteau’s Par dix-huit mètres de fond, which was released in April 1943.
Épaves was filmed under the watchful eye of an Italian army of occupation unit commanded by Italian Navy diver Giovanni Andreoni.
During the filming of Épaves, on October 17, 1943, Frédéric Dumas reached the record depth of 62 m (203 ft).
Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival)
Franck Machu. Un cinéaste nommé Cousteau. Éditions du Rocher. 2011.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Frédéric Dumas. The Silent World. Hamish Hamilton, London. 1953.
Philippe Tailliez. Plongées sans câble. Arthaud, Paris, January 1954.
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Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.