The Lost City of Z (15)

Nov 28, 2018
Cranbrook Film Society

Percy Fawcett, a British officer, travels to the Amazon rainforest in 1906 to survey the border between Brazil and Bolivia, and is persuaded by locals that a lost city exists. Based on a true story the film explores his obsession with finding ‘Z’. A fascinating film of great visual beauty.

James Gray | USA | 2016 | 138 mins | 15


The acclaimed director James Gray, whose films have won nominations at the Venice International film festival and at Cannes, had never ‘til now left the suffocating comfort of New York City for his chosenthemes. But in tonight’s film we find him braving the terrors of the Amazon to tell the incredible true story of the British explorer Percy Fawcett in ‘The Lost City of Z’. Fawcett travelled into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20thcentury and discovered evidence of a previously unknown but advanced civilisation that may once have inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment, who regarded indigenous populations as savages, the determined Fawcett, supported by his wife, son and aide de camp returned time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case. The explorer disappeared mysteriously in 1925.

One of the film’s points of interest is the sheer physical difficulty of shooting in the jungle which mirrors the plight of the real Percy Fawcett and his team, and makes his achievement even more awesome. Director James Gray wrote to Francis Ford Coppola (celebrated director of ‘Apocalypse Now’) to ask his advice about shooting in the jungle. Coppola’s two word reply was ‘Don’t go’, a recommendation he himself had been given by the great Roger Corman.

Filming conditions for cast and crew were extremely challenging. The computers were no match for the oppressive jungle conditions; ‘the humidity got to my Mac to the point where it wouldn’t turn on any more’ wrote Gray. Most scenes were filmed in some discomfort. ‘Charlie (Hunnan) and I would be an hour up river from base camp covered in sand fleas all day. It’s definitely a bonding experience. I remember that we pushed a raft with horses on it upstream. One single day of that does you in, but the real guys did it every day for three years, against the flow of the river. It’s madness’.

In fact the magnificent never-ending jungle proves perfectly suited to the film-maker’s lush, operatic, aesthetic as does the film’s central theme of escaping from one’s background.

The film’s critique of England’s patronising imperialism and the racist attitude of the science community towards the natives is clearly set out, and Gray’s tremendous film matches in intensity the striking Werner Herzog’s masterpieces – ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ (shown by CFS in the 90’s) and ‘Fitzcarraldo’.

Get your paddles out.

Isabelle Lavigne-Kidney


            Weighted vote 77.5%