Mysteries of the deep: The Mary-Celestia is the subject of a local film. *Photo by LookBermuda
Mysteries of the deep: The Mary-Celestia is the subject of a local film. *Photo by LookBermuda

A film covering the excavation and recovery of artefacts from the wreck of blockade-runner the Mary-Celestia has been described as “by far our biggest project to date” by local TV production  company LookBermuda.

J-P Rouja, the company’s director, told the Bermuda Sun that he is hoping the film will be aired on major networks including the National Geographic or PBS in the US and elsewhere internationally. He also hopes to enter the film, which will be produced in high definition to international broadcast standards, into major film festivals.

LookBermuda has been given permission to embed its film crew with the recovery team in the excavation of the South Shore wreck that sunk during the American Civil War under mysterious circumstances. 

In January, Philippe Max Rouja, custodian of historic wrecks for the Department of Conservation Services and JP’s brother, discovered a preserved, corked wine bottle and a wooden crate at the bow of the ship.

The fact that the wine was found in the bulkhead, separate from the main cargo, suggests that it was contraband. It is hoped that more wine and possible other items of contraband might shed a light on the role the ship, destined for the confederate south, played in the Civil War.

It is hoped that the excavation will dredge up new evidence that may help to shed light on the theories about who might have wanted to sink the Mary-Celestia.

“The timing is perfect for the US audiences as the Civil War 150 year anniversary extends over the next few years and our film is exploring a part of the Civil War history (Bermuda based blockade runners) that has yet to be covered in detail on Network TV,” said JP.

“Additionally the recovery of Civil War era wine will be of huge interest, in the past few months there have been quite a few wine and champagne recoveries from other shipwrecks that have been very highly publicised.

“This project leverages all of LookBermuda’s strengths. On one side we produce tourism focused content for the industry and LookTV, and on the other side produce educational documentaries for local curriculum via our Educational Media Foundation.

“One of our long term goals has always been to raise our game to the level of producing for Network TV, this project brings all of these elements together.”

JP hopes that the film could also attract a high calibre of tourists to the island.

“This film’s subject matter will target those interested in history, the civil war, shipwrecks, diving and fine wine, a demographic which tends to have disposable income and to travel.

“Combined with the fact that we have Bermuda as the backdrop  allows us to showcase the island in the best possible light aesthetically, environmentally, historically and culturally, which should produce tremendous tourism marketing benefits for the island.”

Philippe Max Rouja initiated the rescue marine archaeology project after he recovered an in-tact bottle of wine during post hurricane surveys in January 2011.

He will lead the excavation with Dr James Delgado, the director of the Maritime Heritage Program for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has participated in over 100 shipwreck expeditions around the world. For five years he hosted the Sea Hunters series on the National Geographic and History Channels.

The hour-long film will include the actual footage of Philppe unearthing the bottle from the sand.

Over the years, storms had resulted in the denser sand being slowly washed away exposing more and more of the buried artefacts. Future storms could put the artefacts at risk and leave the mystery of the sinking unsolved forever.

It is this danger that spurred the government to join forces with NOAA to recover the artefacts from the bulkhead of the bow. The main cargo holds were salvaged at the time of her sinking and subsequent occasions, the bow had remained mostly undisturbed by human hands.

The wreck will be closed to recreational divers (except through dive shops) throughout the excavation which takes place from June 16 to 26.

A member of the three LookBermuda underwater film crew is a cameraman who routinely films for Nat Geo and BBC.

He will be using re-breather Scuba diving gear to maximize his dive time and ensure everything is filmed as it unfolds.

The film, yet to be titled, will air locally on LookTV channel one and will be adapted for the local curriculum through LookBermuda’s Foundation.

It will be available online, on DVD and Blu-Ray and LookBermuda is proposing that it could also be used by the Department of Tourism to promote diving in Bermuda via their various channels.