Friday Harbor Film Festival


Poseidon Project

Poseidon Project is a documentary about one of Britain’s most advanced submarines, the HMS Poseidon, that sank off the coast of China in 1931, and the American explorer who spent six years looking for it.  Half of the submarine’s crew escaped in the first few seconds after their boat collided with a cargo ship, but the rest were entombed as the submarine sank. Three hours later, six sailors surfaced — barely conscious and bitterly cold — the first ever to escape from a sunken submarine using a proto-scuba device.  Years later, while Beijing-based scuba instructor Steven Schwankert was looking for nearby wrecks to dive, he found HMS Poseidon on a list of unexplored sites. What started as his private obsession went on to challenge official accounts of the escape, and bring together the lost pieces of a story that touches on the history of Britain and China up to the present day.

In 1931, the tale of the sailors’ amazing escape made newspaper headlines worldwide and went on to inspire a feature film, released later that year. An analysis of how they survived changed marine safety forever, leading to a revolution in submarine design and a big leap forward in our understanding of decompression sickness. But the names of the survivors, and their submarine, gradually sank into obscurity.  Steven Schwankert’s six-year search for the submarine uncovered the truth behind the forgotten wreck — a story that was far more complicated than the filmmaker had expected and one that differed significantly from what was reported at the time.

Running time: 82 minutes