A line in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Explorer” reads: “Something hidden. Go and find it.” The poem was a favorite of Percy Fawcett, the swashbuckling British adventurer and archaeologist who vanished into the jungles of the Amazon in 1925 on his third attempt to discover the mythical City of Z. In its own way, the making of The Lost City of Z, (which opens April 21), Hollywood’s recreation of the Fawcett tale based on David Grann’s 2009 book of the same name, was also an epic adventure story.
It took place in Tayrona National Natural Park, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, which stood in for remote interior Brazil. The cast members, including Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson, were installed at the Villa María, a nearby eco-lodge overlooking the sea, but the comforts ended each morning at five when they boarded rafts and headed up the Don Diego River to begin filming. While most visitors to the park encounter pristine beaches and picturesque hiking trails through the rain forest, the actors had to endure flash floods, monkeys throwing dung, burrowing insects, and black caimans that interrupted shots. “We were on the edge of absolute disaster the entire time,” director James Gray said.
Gray’s own idea of travel, he adds, is “a villa in Tuscany,” but as a filmmaker he can relate to Fawcett’s obsessiveness. Sit through the credits and you’ll learn that archaeologists have uncovered a complex pre-Columbian network of roads, bridges, and farms in the Xingu region of Amazonia—the very place Fawcett believed the City of Z to have been. Even as our world seems to grow smaller every day, there are still new places to discover.