It was a clear spring day in 1937 when Amelia Earhart brought her personal photographer to a small Southern California airport to document the beginning of her 'round-the-world journey. Al Bresnik took dozens of still photos, including a few that have likely been seen by millions. His brother John, who tagged along, made a very dark, grainy 3.5-minute home movie almost nobody saw—until now. The film, taken with a 16-millimeter camera, sat on a shelf in John Bresnik's office for more than 50 years until his death in 1992. After that, it sat in his son's home in Escondido, Calif., for about 20 more years. It captures a jaunty Earhart: Dressed in a smart pantsuit rather than her standard flight jacket, she shows people around the plane, clambers on top to pose for photos, and occasionally grins broadly, something she rarely did in official photos.
The film, Amelia Earhart's Last Photo Shoot, is being released this month by The Paragon Agency publishing house, along with an 80-page book of the same name. But like all things Earhart, it comes with controversy. TIGHAR Executive Director Richard Gillespie believes it was taken in March 1937 and not in May, as the book's author concludes. It was in March that Earhart made her first attempt to become the first woman to circle Earth when she left from California. She only got as far as Hawaii, where she crashed her twin-engine Electra L-10E on takeoff and had to have it shipped home for repairs. "You can tell from the way the airplane's configured," says Gillespie. "The airplane as shown in the film is very clearly the pre-repaired airplane." Further, Gillespie doubts there was a photo shoot before the May departure from California because she left quietly that time. (A 15-person team set off yesterday in search of clues to Earhart's fate.)