Skip to main site content.
The iconic aviator whom most have only seen in still images comes to life in a rare 16-millimeter film shot almost 80 years ago


Never-before-seen footage of Amelia Earhart, “the true breakout feminist,” surfaces

By Andrew Tavani on June 10, 2015

New footage of Amelia Earhart, believed to have been shot just weeks prior to her final flight, has emerged. The 16-millimeter film had been sitting on a shelf in the office of the man who shot it for more than half a century. Titled “Amelia Earhart’s Last Photo Shoot,” it’s being released along with an 80-page book of the same name that documents Earhart’s attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world.

The book’s publisher Doug Westfall said the footage was shot in 1937 by John Bresnick, the brother of Albert Bresnick, the legendary aviator’s personal photographer. According to Westfall, John Bresnick accompanied his brother on what would be Earhart’s final photo shoot at a Southern California airport, as she waited for her plane to be rebuilt for what would be her ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

Since then, the dark, grainy footage had been seen by virtually no one, until John Bresnick died in 1992 and his son, John Bresnick Jr., discovered the film sitting in a box. Still, it took Bresnick Jr. almost 20 years to bring the film to anyone’s attention.

The black and white film is about three minutes long and shows Earhart walking around her plane and later posing on, inside and next to the aircraft as Albert Bresnick, her photographer, follows along and takes photos. Many of the shots Albert Bresnick captured of the iconic aviator have been seen by millions of people over the decades since her disappearance. The footage brings some of those still images to life, offering a rare glimpse of Earhart in action.

“You see Albert on the ground with his big camera, and he’s on his back, and he’s shooting upward toward Amelia and she’s like … towering,” said Nicole Swinsford, the author of the accompanying book. “It’s how the world saw Amelia. She was this heroine and this sign of hope in the Great Depression.”

Westfall says had become friends with John Bresnick Jr. who, after finally realizing what was on the film, brought it to him about a decade after he made the discovery while going through his late father’s belongings, the AFP reports.

“I didn’t even know what was on the film until my dad died and I took it home and watched it,” Bresnik, Jr. said, according to The Associated Press. “It just always sat in a plain box on a shelf in his office, and on the outside it said, ‘Amelia Earhart, Burbank Airport, 1937.'”

“It shows a more feminine side of her,” Swinsford remarked. In the film, Earhart can be seen wearing a pantsuit and striking a more personal and playful look than she typically did in front of the camera. Westfall notes her outsized importance in feminism. “She was the true breakout feminist,” Westfall said. “She is the one who allowed women to do things that only men had done before.”

Experts who have seen the film agree that it’s authentic, but there’s disagreement among them as to when exactly the footage was shot. Some believe it was recorded in March of 1937 and others think it was later that year, in May.

Earhart took flight from Miami weeks later, on June 1, 1937, beginning her fateful journey. She was last heard from in a radio broadcast made in early July just three weeks shy of her 40th birthday when, while flying over the Pacific, she said her plane was running low on fuel. She was never heard from again, and what exactly happened to her and her aircraft has gone down as one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time.

Last week, TIME reported, the search for her plane began anew. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery launched a mission to travel to the remote island in the Pacific Ocean where some experts believe her plane went down and hopefully solve the mystery once and for all. In 1932, at the age of 34, Earhart became the first woman to pilot an aircraft on a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Below, watch the newly-surfaced footage of Amelia Earhart: