James Cameron Now at Ocean's Deepest Point

Explorer-filmmaker reaches Mariana Trench on deepest ever solo sub dive.
Ker Than
Published 6 p.m. ET, March 25, 2012
At 5:52 p.m. ET Sunday (7:52 a.m. Monday, local time), James Cameron arrived at the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep, members of the National Geographic expedition have confirmed.

His depth on arrival: 35,756 feet (10,898 meters)—a figure unattainable anywhere else in the ocean.
Reaching bottom after a 2-hour-and-36-minute descent, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker typed out welcome words for the cheering support crew waiting at the surface: "All systems OK."
Folded into a sub cockpit as cramped as any Apollo capsule, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker is now investigating a seascape more alien to humans than the moon. Cameron is only the third person to reach this Pacific Ocean valley southwest of Guam (map)—and the only one to do so solo.
Hovering in what he's called a vertical torpedo, Cameron is likely collecting data, specimens, and imagery unthinkable in 1960, when the only other explorers to reach Challenger Deep returned after seeing little more than the silt stirred up by their bathyscaphe.
After as long as six hours in the trench, Cameron—best known for creating fictional worlds on film (Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss)—is to jettison steel weights attached to the sub and shoot back to the surface. (See pictures of Cameron's sub.)
Meanwhile, the expedition's scientific support team awaits his return aboard the research ships Mermaid Sapphire and Barakuda, 7 miles (11 kilometers) up. (Video: how sound revealed that Challenger Deep is the deepest spot in the ocean.)
"We're now a band of brothers and sisters that have been through this for a while," marine biologist Doug Bartlett told National Geographic News from the ship before the dive.
"People have worked for months or years in a very intensive way to get to this point," said Bartlett, chief scientist for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE program, a partnership with the National Geographic Society and Rolex. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
"I think people are ready," added Bartlett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. "They want to get there, and they want to see this happen."
Rendezvous at Challenger Deep
Upon touchdown at Challenger Deep, Cameron's first target is a phone booth-like unmanned "lander" dropped into the trench hours before his dive.
Using sonar, "I'm going to attempt to rendezvous with that vehicle so I can observe animals that are attracted to the chemical signature of its bait," Cameron told National Geographic News before the dive.
He'll later follow a route designed to take him through as many environments as possible, surveying not only the sediment-covered seafloor but also cliffs of interest to expedition geologists.
"I'll be doing a bit of a longitudinal transect along the trench axis for a while, and then I'll turn 90 degrees and I'll go north and work myself up the wall," said Cameron, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. (Listen: James Cameron on becoming a National Geographic explorer.)
Though battery power and vast distances limit his contact with his science team to text messaging and sporadic voice communication, Cameron seemed confident in his mission Friday. "I'm pretty well briefed on what I'll see," he said.
Bullet to the Deep
To get to this point, Cameron and his crew have spent seven years reimagining what a submersible can be. The result is the 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) DEEPSEA CHALLENGER.

Engineered to sink upright and spinning, like a bullet fired straight into the Mariana Trench, the sub can descend about 500 feet (150 meters) a minute—"amazingly fast," in the words of Robert Stern, a marine geologist at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Pre-expedition estimates put the Challenger Deep descent at about 90 minutes. (Animation: Cameron's Mariana Trench dive compressed into one minute.)
By contrast, some current remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, descend at about 40 meters (130 feet) a minute, added Stern, who isn't part of the expedition.
Andy Bowen, project manager and principal developer of the Nereus, an ROV that explored Challenger Deep in 2009, called the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER "an extremely elegant solution to the challenge of diving a human-occupied submersible to such extreme depths."
"It's been engineered to be very effective at getting from the surface to the seafloor in as quick a time as possible," said Bowen, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who also isn't part of the current expedition.
And that's just the idea, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team says: The faster Cameron gets there, the more time for science. (Read more about DEEPSEA CHALLENGE science.)
Pursuing speed and science in tandem makes the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER test dives—and even the Mariana Trench mission—perhaps as unorthodox as the sub itself.
Typically "you conduct a sea trial for a vehicle, you pronounce it fit for service, and then you develop a science program around it," Cameron said before heading to the trench. "We collapsed that together into one expedition, because [we were] fairly confident the vehicle would work—and it is."
Techno Torpedo
Now, at the bottom of the trench, the sub's custom-designed foam filling and the pressure-resistant shape of the "pilot sphere"—are helping protect Cameron from the equivalent of 8 tons pressing down on every square inch (1,125 kilograms per square centimeter). (Video: how sub sphere protects Cameron.)
Among the sub's tools are a sediment sampler, a mechanical claw, a "slurp gun" for sucking up small sea creatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges.
While that might sound like a gearhead's paradise, Cameron knows he'll "have to be able to prioritize."
"Is my manipulator working properly? Do I still have room in my sample drawer? And do I still have the ability to take a [sediment] core sample? ... I only have [tools for] three sediment cores available on the vehicle, so I have to choose wisely when to use them."
By contrast, the sub's multiple 3-D cameras will be whirring almost continually, and not just for the benefit of future audiences of planned documentaries.
"There is scientific value in getting stereo images," Cameron said, "because ... you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can't from 2-D images."
But, Scripps's Bartlett said, "it's not just the video." The sub's lighting of deepwater scenes—mainly by an 8-foot (2.5-meter) tower of LEDs—is "so, so beautiful. It's unlike anything that you'll have seen from other subs or other remotely operated vehicles."
The Search for Life
Right now it's a mystery what Cameron is seeing, sampling, and filming at depth, in part because so little is known about the Challenger Deep environment.
The only glimpses scientists have had of the region, via two ROV missions, showed a seafloor covered in light gray, silky mud.
Cameron may be detecting subtle signs of life—burrows or tracks or fecal piles—said DEEPSEA CHALLENGE biological oceanographer Lisa Levin, also of Scripps, who's monitoring the expedition from afar.
If the water's clear, she added, Cameron may be seeing jellyfish or xenophyophores—giant, single-celled, honeycomb-shaped creatures already filmed in other areas of the Mariana Trench. (See "Giant 'Amoebas' Found in Deepest Place on Earth.")
"If we get lucky," Cameron said before the dive, "we should find something like a cold seep, where we might find tube worms." Cold seeps are regions of the ocean floor somewhat like hydrothermal vents (video) that ooze fluid chemicals at the same temperature as the surrounding water.
Earlier this month, during a test dive near Papua New Guinea, Cameron brought back enormous shrimplike creatures from five miles (eight kilometers) down. At 7 inches (17 centimeters) long, the animals are "the largest amphipods ever seen at that kind of depth," chief scientist Bartlett said. "And we saw one on camera that was perhaps twice that size."
At Challenger Deep depths, though, the calcium animals need to form shells dissolves quickly. It's unlikely—though not impossible—that Cameron is finding shelled creatures, but if he does, the discovery would be a scientific jaw-dropper.
Even if he uncovers "a rock with a shell limpet or some kind of bivalve in the mud"—such as a clam, perhaps—"that would be exciting," Scripps's Levin said.
Aliens of the Abyss
Expedition astrobiologist Kevin Hand, of NASA, imagines that the life-forms Cameron might be encountering could help fine-tune the search for extraterrestrial life.
For instance, scientists think Jupiter's moon Europa could harbor a global ocean beneath its thick shell of ice—an ocean that, like Challenger Deep, would be lightless, near freezing, and home to areas of intense pressure. (See "Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Fish-Size Life?")
By studying the wavelengths of light, or spectra, reflected off life-forms and sediments brought up by Cameron, Hand should get a better idea of which minerals are needed for life in such an environment. This, in turn, might help him design a space probe better able to detect signs of life on Europa.
"There's an old adage in geology that the best geologist is the one that's seen the most rocks," said Hand, a National Geographic emerging explorer.
"I think astrobiology could have a similar adage, in that our best capability for finding life elsewhere—and knowing it when we see it—will come from having a comprehensive understanding of all the various extremes of life on Earth."
And for UT Dallas's Stern, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's rock-sampling capability offers the opportunity to better understand our planet's inner workings.
"Challenger Deep is the deepest cut into the solid Earth," Stern said, "and this gives us a chance to see deeper into the Earth than anywhere else."
Once the trench-dive data, specimens, and imagery have been analyzed, National Geographic magazine plans to reveal the full results in a special issue on next-generation exploration in January 2013.
"A Turning Point"
By returning humans to the so-called hadal zone—the ocean's deepest level, below 20,000 feet (6,000 meters)—the Challenger Deep expedition may represent a renaissance in deep-sea exploration.
While ROVs are much less expensive than manned subs, "the critical thing is to be able to take the human mind down into that environment," expedition member Patricia Fryer said, "to be able to turn your head and look around to see what the relationships are between organisms in a community and to see how they're behaving—to turn off all the lights and just sit there and watch and not frighten the animals, so that they behave normally.
"That is almost impossible to do with an ROV," said Fryer, a marine geologist at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics & Planetology.
In fact, Cameron is so confident in his star vehicle that he started mulling sequels even before the trench dive.
Phase two might include adding a thin fiber-optic tether to the ship, which "would allow science observers at the surface to see the images in real time," he said. "And phase three might be taking this vehicle and creating a second-generation vehicle."
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, then, may be anything but a one-hit wonder. To Bartlett, the Mariana Trench expedition could "represent a turning point in how we approach ocean science.
"I absolutely think that what you're seeing is the start of a program, not just one grand expedition."
Rachael Jackson of National Geographic Channels International contributed reporting to this story.

James Cameron's deep sea dive to begin

By Kevin Hayes
(CBS) After delays caused by bad weather, reports say "Avatar" filmmaker James Cameron's expedition to dive to the earth's deepest known point has set off.

The BBC reported that Cameron and his team had set off for the trench and were "waiting for calm weather to begin the dive." TG Daily echoes the BBC report, saying that Cameron is "on the point of attempting" the dive.

Cameron helped design the Deepsea Challenger, a submersible will attempt to reach the the "Challenger Deep," a spot in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean almost 7 miles below the ocean's surface.

According to the website set up for the dive, Cameron plans on making a solo descent in the craft. the site says Cameron previously made the deepest solo dive in history in the craft, going 5.1 miles deep in a "dress rehearsal" for the Challenger Deep dive.

For the Deepsea Challenge expedition, Cameron plans on spending 6 hours at the bottom of the trench, collecting samples "for research in marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology and geophysics."

"The deep trenches are the last unexplored frontier on our planet, with scientific riches enough to fill a hundred years of exploration," Cameron said. Among Cameron's goals: "to inspire people across the globe to celebrate exploration and to explore with us online and through the media we produce."

The Challenger Deep has been reached just once before, by Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh in a specially-made bathyscaphe called the Trieste in 1960.

The expedition is a joint project by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex. According to the release, the expedition will be filmed for a 3-D feature that will be released to theaters.
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band performing at the Sunscreen Film Festival

Coming UP!

Friday, April 20, 5PM
Williams Park, Downtown St. Pete
Cost: Free!

(TAMPA BAY, Fla.,)  
Downtown St. Petersburg is set to be the location for 7th Annual Sunscreen Film Festival, including a live performance by CSI:NY’s Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band on April 20th at 5pm. This is a free concert, co-produced by Backline Music at Williams Park to benefit active duty military and veterans in the bay area. With MacDill Air Force Base and BayPines VA Hospital local to the Tampa Bay area, it is expected to be a great turnout.

NY’s Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will perform live at the festival. The Lt. Dan Band covers everything from Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix classics to contemporary songs by Kelly Clarkson, Evanescence, Beyonce, Lonestar, the Zac Brown Band and much more. There is something for everyone and each show highlights the musical diversity of the band, as well as the passion and energy each member brings to the stage.

In addition, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders (www.buccaneers.com/cheerleaders/index.html) will appear in a special opening performance prior to the band, complete with a meet and greet for concert goers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders participate in performances regularly for troops on USO and Armed Forces Entertainment Tours.

Being able to have CSI:NY’s Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders perform at this year’s festival is something we are looking very forward to. The fact that the concert will benefit active duty military and veterans in the area is even better,” commented Tony Armer, Executive Director of the Sunscreen Film Festival.

The concert is free and open to the public; however, concert goers can purchase VIP tickets which include front-row access to the concert in Williams Park plus complimentary admission to the exclusive after-party at PUSH Ultra lounge in downtown St. Petersburg. 

For VIP concert tickets, which include two free drinks, visit http://sunscreen-filmfestival.ticketleap.com/vip-concert-gary-sinise/ 

For Festival VIP passes, and what other perks the passes include, visit http://sunscreen-filmfestival.ticketleap.com/2012-vip-pass/.

James Cameron: Voyage to the bottom of the sea, within Weeks

During Tuesday test, filmmaker-explorer became deepest solo sub pilot ever.
A submarine.

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER sub in tests off Papua New Guinea in March.

Squeezed into a submersible as futuristic as anything in his movies, James Cameron intends to descend solo to the ocean's deepest point within weeks, the Canadian filmmaker and explorer announced Thursday. (See more pictures of Cameron's sub.)

Just Tuesday, during testing off Papua New Guinea, Cameron dived deeper than any other human has on a solo mission. Now he aims to become the first human to visit the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep in more than 50 years—and to return with animals, images, and data that were unthinkable in 1960.

That year the two-person crew of the U.S. Navy submersible Trieste—still the only humans to have reached Challenger Deep—spent only 20 minutes at the bottom, their view obscured by silt stirred up by the landing (more on the Trieste dive).

By contrast, the Cameron-designed DEEPSEA CHALLENGER sub is expected to allow the explorer to spend about six hours on the seafloor. During that time he plans to collect samples and film the whole affair with multiple 3-D, high-definition cameras and an 8-foot-tall (2.4-meter-tall) array of LED lights.

Already the tech-laden sub has taken Cameron a record-breaking 5.1 miles (8.2 kilometers) straight down. That Tuesday dress rehearsal for Mariana made the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER the deepest-diving submersible in operation and the deepest-diving single-pilot sub in history.

Designed to sink strangely—and efficiently—upright, the 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) craft was eight years in the making. Among its advances is a specially designed foam that helps allow the new sub to weigh in at 12 metric tons, making it some 12 times lighter than the Trieste.

Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at Duke University and a former pilot of the deepwater submersible Alvin, said she hopes some of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's technology will trickle down to the rest of the deep-ocean science community.

"I think some of the engineering feats that have to be overcome are some of the most exciting aspects of this project ... because going to such extreme depths will require some technological breakthroughs," said Van Dover, who is not involved in Cameron's dive attempt.

Despite its innovations, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's spherical steel cockpit just barely accommodates its single occupant—in this case, Cameron, the man behind Avatar, Titanic, The Terminator, and, fittingly, The Abyss.

Nothing in his fictional worlds could quite prepare him for real-life exploration, said Cameron, a veteran of dozens of deep-sea submersible dives.

"When you're making a movie, everybody's read the script and they know what's going to happen next," said Cameron, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, in a video statement. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

"When you're on an expedition, nature hasn't read the script, the ocean hasn't read the script, and no one knows what's going to happen next."

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, who descended to Challenger Deep with Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard in the Trieste in 1960, said he was very pleased by the renewed interest in the Mariana Trench.

"I think it's about time," said Walsh, who is an advisor to the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE project and who will be with the Cameron team when the sub makes its Challenger Deep attempt.

"When Jacques and I surfaced from our deep dive, we were thinking about how long before someone else tries it, and we came to the conclusion that it would be about two years."

Mariana Trench Still a Mystery

Cameron and his team will head for the Mariana Trench only after completing more tests—this time off the U.S. island territory of Guam (map), about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of Challenger Deep.

The dive will be part of Cameron's DEEPSEA CHALLENGE project, a partnership with National Geographic and Rolex that will take him and a crew of engineers, scientists, and filmmakers to the deepest ocean regions on Earth.

Cameron, 57, said he hopes the project will help answer some surprisingly basic scientific questions about ocean trenches, such as whether fish can live in the sea's deepest reaches.

(Despite a claimed sighting by a Trieste crewmember, the presence of fish in Challenger Deep is very much an open question. So far no robotic mission has spotted fish there.)

"We're gonna go down there with our cameras, our lights, and find the answers to some of those questions," Cameron said.

The Mariana Trench is something of a 1,500-mile-long (2,550-kilometer-long) scar in the Pacific seafloor. (See pictures of the Mariana Trench region.)

At Challenger Deep, the trench plummets 6.8 miles (11 kilometers) down—if Mount Everest were dropped here, its summit would be more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) underwater. (Animation: Cameron's Mariana Trench dive compressed into one minute.)

"It's a place we can't get to, and we don't like not being able to get to places," Duke's Van Dover said. "It's something that gets to our psyche—we want to reach the impossible."

Because of its extreme depth, the trench is perhaps the most inhumane place on Earth: cloaked in perpetual darkness, chilled to near freezing. At the bottom, Cameron's craft will be subjected to water pressures approaching 16,000 pounds per square inch (1,125 kilograms per square centimeter).

"It would be about the equivalent of turning the Eiffel Tower upside down and resting it on your big toe," DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team member Patricia Fryer told National Geographic News. Fryer is a geologist at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics & Planetology (HIGP).

The sub will actually shrink by about 2.5 inches (6.3 centimeters) during the descent.

Expedition leader Cameron said, "Every single fastener, every single way of joining structures on the sub had to be looked at very carefully, because otherwise stainless steel bolts would just shear as the sub compressed."

Cameron isn't the only person dreaming of reaching the ocean's deepest point.

U.K. magnate Richard Branson has built a two-seater sub resembling a stubby-winged airplane, which he says can survive a Challenger Deep descent. Also, the Triton "luxury" submersible company last year unveiled the Triton 36000/3 model, which would reportedly allow a three-person crew to make the journey.

Of the current-day contenders, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER looks as though it'll be first to the bottom—and of course first to return.

Once Cameron flips a switch, an electromagnetic system is to jettison the heavy steel plates that allow the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to sink—sending the sub surfaceward like a cork.

The team estimates Cameron will be able to complete the descent in an hour and a half. The ascent should take about the same amount of time—a far cry from the Trieste's five-hour descent and three-hour-plus ascent.

The trip, though, won't be a comfortable one for Cameron.

In the 43-inch-wide (109-centimeter-wide) steel "pilot sphere," the explorer won't be able to extend his arms or legs. And he'll have to share that scant space with snacks, a camera, joysticks, and a change of warmer clothing (more on what Cameron will experience).

"It's like a clown car in there," Cameron said. "You barely have room to get in, and then they hand you another 50 pounds [23 kilograms] of equipment." (See inside the pilot sphere.)

Trieste co-pilot Walsh, who has seen the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER in person, said he was very impressed by its technology.

"When you look backward from when we dove ... it's like asking Orville Wright to compare his airplane to a 747," he said.

Nevertheless, when Cameron invited Walsh to sit in a mockup of the sub's cramped cockpit, he declined. "I just told him my body doesn't fold that way anymore."

"Totally Alien" Animals Await?

During the expected six-hour sea-bottom sojourn, Cameron will be able to use the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's 12 propeller-driven thrusters to move up and down and side to side and to hover in place.

With a folding robotic arm, he'll be able to collect rocks, animals, and seafloor core samples for later study on the surface. (Related: "Life Is Found Thriving at Ocean's Deepest Point.")

Before Cameron's dive, the team also plans to send unmanned "landers" to the trench bottom. Resembling skinny phone booths, the 13-foot-tall (4-meter-tall), camera-equipped submersibles will carry bait to lure sea creatures into plastic cylinders, which can be retrieved by the team when the landers surface.

"The animals on the inside are captured" and even after ascent, "still cold, still under pressure," Kevin Hardy, senior development engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, and a member of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team, told National Geographic.

Hardy predicts some of the specimens will be "totally alien" to scientists. "If you can imagine a wild animal, you'll find it down there."

Already, "science fiction is mimicking what we see for real in the deep ocean," he added. "And we haven't seen it all yet. There's a 'continent' we haven't explored down there."

Duke’s Van Dover is also excited about the scientific discoveries that could be lurking in the trench.

"Challenger Deep is one of those truly mysterious places where we're bound to discover many new species and different kinds of habitats that we haven't imagined before," she said.

"Many scientists would like to understand more about the pressure effects on physiology and biochemistry at those depths."

Why Send Cameron?

While many of the scientific goals Cameron hopes to achieve with the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER could be accomplished with an unmanned sub, he believes the risk is worth it.

Piloting a submersible remotely, "you just don't get a sense of that situational awareness that you have when you're really down there," he said.

HIGP's Fryer agreed, saying a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is no substitute for sending a human-occupied vehicle into the abyss.

"It's like the difference between night and day," Fryer said.

"The critical thing is to be able to take the human mind down into that environment, to be able to turn your head and look around to see what the relationships are between organisms in a community and to see how they're behaving, to turn off all the lights and just sit there and watch and not frighten the animals so that they behave normally.

"That is almost impossible to do with an ROV."

Buried Secrets of the Mariana Trench

In addition to the rare specimens that could be brought back for study, scientists say a Mariana Trench dive could help shed light on natural disasters and even the emergence of life on Earth.

Most tsunamis, for example, result from earthquakes along faults called subduction zones, where one tectonic plate slowly slides beneath another, forming ocean trenches.

"What we've found by dredging the overriding plate on the inner slope of the [Mariana Trench] is that it exposes the upper part of the planet's mantle as well as the lower part of the Earth's crust and all the way up to the shallow crust," Fryer explained.

Close looks at such slopes could lead to a better understanding of the geological conditions that control earthquakes and provide valuable clues about the makeup of our planet.

Some scientists have also speculated that so-called mud volcanoes near the Mariana Trench could have served as incubators for the first life-forms on Earth. (See "Major Deep-Sea Smokers Found—'Evolution in Overdrive.'")

"The amino acids that are essential for building the earliest cells are not stable at high temperatures" such as those at volcanic vents along shallower ocean ridges, Fryer said.

For those crucial molecules, she said, "you'd need a relatively cool environment and you'd need water"—conditions present at Mariana Trench mud volcanoes.

"Of Course I'm Worried"

Cameron is well aware of the dangers involved in the Challenger Deep endeavor, and his team has built several safety precautions into the sub.

For example, if there's a power failure, the metal weights are to fall away, allowing the sub to surface. And if the weights don't disengage normally, a wire connecting them to the sub will corrode within about 12 hours.

Cameron will also have the option of using a heat-based method to break the bolts holding the plates—which furthermore can be electromagnetically disengaged via a signal from a research vessel at the surface.

Even with multiple safeguards, Cameron isn't exactly carefree.

"Yeah, of course I'm worried," he said. "Worry is a good thing when you're an explorer.

"I think when you're cavalier, when you take risk for granted—that's when you're going to get bitten."

Rachael Jackson of National Geographic Channels International contributed reporting to this story.

Heath Ledger Scholarship 2012


Los Angeles, Calif. (January 26, 2012) – Australians in Film (AiF), today announced that applications are now open for the prestigious fourth annual AiF HEATH LEDGER SCHOLARSHIP (HLS). Renowned Hollywood director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown and Thirteen) has agreed to join the 2012 judging panel, and a 10-day trip for two around California has been added to the winners prize package. The Scholarship is open to any emerging Australian actor who wants to further their career and training in the US.

Applications are open now and will be available until March 15th, 2012 at www.aifhls.org .The winning recipient will be announced at the AiF’s annual Breakthrough Awards in Los Angeles later this year.

The recipient of the primary scholarship will receive USD$10,000 in cash, a round-trip ticket to Los Angeles flying Australians in Film’s exclusive airline partner Virgin Australia, a one-year Scholarship to Stella Adler Acting School in LA, a ten-day trip around California for two from Visit California, and a Showcast & Breakdown Services VIP casting package. Two runners up will each receive a round-trip ticket to Los Angeles courtesy of Virgin Australia plus a Showcast VIP casting package. Ten finalists, who will be announced in April 2012, will each receive a Quickflix annual subscription.

Previous recipients of the Scholarship have included Bella Heathcote, who is set to appear in the upcoming Tim Burton film Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp and Andrew Dominik’s Cogan’s Trade with Brad Pitt; Ryan Corr, (upcoming film, Not Suitable for Children with Ryan Kwanten, Packed to the Rafters and Tangles) and Oliver Ackland (The Slap, Cloudstreet, Wasted on the Young.)

Bella Heatcote says of her 2010 Scholarship "Winning the scholarship was the best possible way to start my career in LA. It gave me the incentive to come to LA, a start-up fund to sustain me, and a foot in-the-door in regards to meetings with industry professionals. I'd encourage any actor out there to apply."

The Heath Ledger Scholarship is named in honor of Ledger who was an Ambassador for AiF before his untimely death in January 2008 and has the support of the Ledger family and friends.

Past judges have included actors Jude Law, Rachel Griffiths, Jason Issacs and Frances O’Connor, film director Gregor Jordan, talent agent Steve Alexander, and casting agents Ann Faye, John Papsidera, and April Webster.

Benefactors include Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Hugh Jackman, Deborra-Lee Furness, Michelle Williams, Phil Noyce, Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin.

Applications and complete scholarship guidelines are available on www.aifhls.org To contribute financially, please contact us .

About Australians in Film

Founded in May 2001, to celebrate and support Australian film and TV makers and their work, Los Angeles based non-profit Australians in Film has held over 100 screenings, premieres and special events and currently has over 500 members. In 2008 Australians in Film established the annual Heath Ledger Scholarship in honor of the late actor who was an ambassador of the group. For further information please visit www.australiansinfilm.org.

Australians in Film 2012 Heath Ledger Scholarship is sponsored by: Virgin Australia, Visit California, Stella Adler Acting and Theatre, Quickflix and Showcast, with Breakdown Services. In addition to AiF annual sponsors, Virgin Australia, Brand Australia, Stacey Testro International, Ausfilm, Protea Group International, and Getty Images.

About Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia is proud to be the Presenting Partner and exclusive airline of Australians in Film. Flying non-stop between Los Angeles and Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Virgin Australia offers 33 lie-flat beds in International Business, 40 all-leather International Premium Economy seats and 288 International Economy seats – the widest across the Pacific. Virgin Australia also offers attentive in-flight service, two in-flight boutique bars, gourmet meals, generous legroom, state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment, and unique mood lighting. Once you’ve landed Down Under, Virgin Australia can fly you to more than 50 destinations within Australia and New Zealand. For more information on Virgin Australia, please visit www.virginaustralia.com.

# # #

Media contact:

Susie Dobson

Tel: 310 486 2939

Email: susiedobsonglobalpr@mac.com or visit: heathledger.com

Hackers Steal Michael Jackson's Unreleased Tracks

Michael Jackson's entire back catalogue, including an unreleased collaboration with Will.I.AM, has been stolen by hackers.

The Sony Music archive has been infiltrated by cyber-crooks, who have illegally downloaded more than 50,000 digital files.

Record company bosses paid $250 million (£156 million) to Jackson's estate in 2010 for the catalogue, including unheard material from studio sessions when the superstar recorded Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad.

A source tells Britain's Sunday Times, "Everything Sony purchased from the Michael Jackson estate was compromised.

"It caused them to check their systems and they found the breach. There was a degree of sophistication. Sony identified the weakness and plugged the gap."

The haul is also said to include a duet with the late Freddie Mercury and Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am.