It was the “unsinkable ship” and the largest seagoing craft ever made. When RMS Titanic set off from Southampton, England, for its maiden voyage to New York, no one could have possibly imagined that only four days later it would collide with an iceberg, break in two and be forever consigned to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
The story of the Titanic captured the imagination of generations of people, the world over, ever since that fateful first and last voyage in April 1912. After numerous attempts to locate the wreck, on September 1, 1985, a joint American- French expedition, co-headed by celebrated American oceanographer Robert Ballard, finally found it. It took over 70 years to zone in on the wreck, which was found at a depth of 3,800 meters around 22 km. from the Titanic’s reported position at the time of the disaster.
The discovery was followed by seven research and recovery expeditions to the ocean liner, between 1987 and 2004, with over 5,500 artifacts brought back to the surface. In 2010 an eighth expedition brought back a massive 15-ton hunk of the ship’s hull that was put on display at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In 2012, the centennial of the sinking, The Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition began doing the rounds of the global circuit and has finally made it to this part of the world. A hundred and two years on, all kinds of items recovered from the famous passenger ship will be displayed at the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center in Tel Aviv from June 7 through August 25.
Seventy-six-year-old Prof. Anatoly Sagalevich was not on Ballard’s team, but the Russian explorer gained intimate knowledge of the stricken craft through dozens of dives he underwent to the ship, primarily in the employ of various filmmakers. Most famously, Sagalevich, who works at the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, was instrumental in capturing images and information that were used by James Cameron to make the 1997 epic movie, starring Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet that garnered 11 Oscar Awards.
Sagalevich first became aware of the story of the legendary ocean liner as a youngster.
“When I was seven years old, I watched the film Loss of Titanic, made in Germany in 1943,” he recalls. “Occasionally I read some articles and books after that, but I never was obsessed by the idea of finding the Titanic.”
The said piece of celluloid was, in fact, a Nazi propaganda film, called Titanic, which was commissioned by Joseph Goebbels and designed to portray the British and Americans as the bad guys, while a fictitious German, by the name of First Officer Petersen, was cast as the hero. Ironically, and tragically, the German liner SS Cap Arcona, which was used to make the Nazi movie, was later mistakenly sunk by the RAF, resulting in a far greater civilian loss of life than the number of fatalities on the Titanic.
Despite not being initially drawn to getting close to the iconic wreck, the Russian’s later career path led him down to the depths of the northern Atlantic Ocean when IMAX asked him to help out with the technicalities of making the Titanica documentary, narrated by Leonard Nimoy. That followed some technological innovations by Sagalevich.
“When I built the MIR-1 and MIR-2 submersibles [6,000 m.], the guys from IMAX proposed to make the film about [the] Titanic and [asked me to] make the dives to the wreck. It was in 1988. And in 1991 we provided the first expedition on Titanic, made 19 dives and got excellent footage. The film Titanica was screened in November 1992 in Ottawa. It was a real hit for IMAX.”
According to the Internet, the movie was actually released in 1995, but you get the message.
Sagalevich’s underwater film-oriented exploits did not end there.
“After that we made three more movies, including famous [1997 blockbuster] Titanic with James Cameron and others. We also did dives with passengers. In total about 90 people ‘from the street’ made dives to the Titanic. Over 150 dives on Titanic were done totally. As a pilot I made 57 dives.”
The Russian says he was fascinated with the structure of the ship, both inside and out.
“The wreck is very interesting everywhere. Firstly, we made the observation and the filming outside – for the IMAX movie – but with Cameron we put small ROV [remotely operated underwater vehicle] modules with cameras and lights inside the wreck. They gave us excellent pictures of the interior of the wreck. The ROV modules came out from the MIRs, when we reached the wreck.”
Sagalevich says he got a lot out of his work on the films.
“I learned how IMAX and Hollywood shoot and produce movies. And I was an actor in the famous Titanic movie. I played myself. It was really unique experience.”
The Russian says there are important lessons to be gained from the loss of the “unsinkable ship.”
“We must learn, learn and learn and get the lessons from such accidents,” he declares. “Titanic is great story, which must teach people that safety is the most important concept in our life. But to know how to be safe in different situations we must not only read the books and watch the films, but also study the details of the accidents.”
While The Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition doesn’t offer too much about the ins and outs of the reasons for the disasters, it will surely help to keep the story alive and draw in the crowds to catch a glimpse of some of the items that graced the most magnificent sea craft of its time.
The Titanic Exhibition is sponsored by Isracard.