The tale of airships and exploration has fascinated writers, painters, playwrights, and filmmakers for a century. I would like to tell you about Norwegian director Kajsa Næss and her animated film, "Titina," presented in Cannes these days. But first, a step back in history.
Everyone has heard of the exploits of airships, often associated with their decline, sometimes with their accidents, others, few indeed, with the technical and geographic achievements that saw them as protagonists. Technological progress has relegated the giants of the air to a limbo of history, attaching to them the romantic label of losers and obsolete, crushed by the superiority of airplanes and their unstoppable evolution.
That is not what I am here to talk about today: I am here to remind you that there was a time when the technology of airships, the skill of their commanders, the bravery of their crews, and their immense shadow cast over great cities and remote moors instilled enthusiasm, astonishment and admiration throughout the world. In 1926, especially, the notoriety of airships and their feats brought heroes old and new into the international limelight.
Among them was an irresistible new star: Titina. Not just a female name in an era dominated by male presence, but something even more unique: Titina was a little dog. Her tiny, ordinary, intelligent little fox terrier muzzle featured the first pages of all newspapers: the first dog to fly over the North Pole in the cramped cabin of the N1 "Norge," in the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile Transpolar Flight.
Her photos before and after the venture, in the arms of her inseparable master, Italian designer, explorer and general Umberto Nobile, show her serene and happy face. Titina traveled, and she traveled a lot: to England, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Soviet Union, the United States, Japan... She met ministers and kings, and peed in the White House in the presence of the hilarious President Coolidge. A medal with his effigy was even minted in the Land of the Rising Sun.
When two years later, in May 1928, Titina repeated the feat, she was already a legend in the world. But the giant of the sky carrying her crashed returning from the North Pole: the world held its breath waiting for the survivors of the N4 "Italia" expedition to be unexpectedly found and finally rescued. Lost in the Arctic wilderness, the lost and wounded men were cuddled by the little dog, leaping memory of their distant home lives, faithful, affectionate, sometimes reckless: "The third one (polar bear, ed.) was chased away by Titina: (...) having escaped Nobile, she pounced on the beast, barking frantically; the poor bear, who in his life had not seen anything so small and so furious, turned his back on it and ran away."
After a month in the ice, Titina and Nobile were boarded in a small plane that landed on the ice and returned together with Swedish pilot Lundborg to civilization, safely. Once again, photos of Titina, a dual polar heroine, moved the world.
Produced by Norway and Belgium, made by Mikrofilm, written by Per Schreiner and directed, in its first feature film, by Kajsa Næss, in theaters in October 2022, "Titina" is a tribute to an animal with a big heart and infinite affection through the poetic and universal language of animation.
Næss recounts learning almost by chance, by a book, of the forgotten story of the polar flight of Norwegian hero Roald Amundsen and his traveling companions: the Italian
Umberto Nobile, the American Lincoln Ellsworth, and the crew from Norway, Italy, Sweden. Called a true(ish) story, the animated film is a tender tale where polar exploits are seen through the eyes of the small, silent dog. A film where heroism gives way to awe, trusting docility and humor of Titina, mute observer, unaware and serene heroine.
If you wish, there is also an Italian book, "Titina, storia di un cane nobile", by Giuseppe Carfagno.
And what about the real Titina? The first and last fox terrier to fly over the North Pole twice lived happily and cuddly. She died in 1938 due to chocolate indigestion. Her tiny body was embalmed and now watches over the relics of polar flights at the Italian Air Force Historical Museum.