(Brent) #1

James Gray’sThe Lost City Of Z
takes the indie filmmaker deep
into uncharted terrain

Of Arabia. “That doesn’t mean I think I’m better
than David Lean,” Gray is quick to insist, “but
that work is both beneiciary and hostage to its
cultural context; Alec Guinness plays an Arab!
I was trying to update that.” Gray says that every
character inThe Lost City Of Z, whether British
or indigenous South American, is “validated as
an independent being”.
That quest for legitimacy also led Gray to
attempt the outlandish, channelling Francis
Ford Coppola and Werner Herzog by heading
deep into the Colombian rainforest (the
historically correct bits of Brazil now look,
according to the director, “like Nebraska”)
for a lirt with catastrophe. Extreme heat and
humidity, thunderstorms, insects and snakes,
and the Zika virus were among the perils, as
was the rather more avoidable dificulty of
shooting on ilm and having to ship the reels
back to London every day. A studio set and
digital cameras would have been cheaper
and more controllable, but for Gray, “The
authenticity was critical.”
There is, however, no Burden Of Dreams or
Hearts Of Darkness-style documentary to chart
the madness. “My wife was going to make a ilm
about me making the ilm,” Gray laughs, “but
we actually didn’t get enough footage to make
a great documentary from. I don’t like to harp on
about the ‘hardships’ of this job. I know I’m in
a very fortunate position.”


AS A DIRECTOR, James Gray likes to ring
the changes. Vaudevillian 1920s drama The
Immigrant was very different from the modern
romance of Two Lovers, which was entirely
unlike the gangland rhythms of We Own The
Night. And The Lost City Of Z is yet another
extreme departure: a historical jungle epic.
“You don’t want to repeat yourself,” Gray tells
Empire of his latest adventure. “The opportunity
to explore new and different stories is a major
attraction of this job.”
The ilm, starring Charlie Hunnam as
real-life Edwardian explorer Percival Fawcett,
is an adaptation of a book by The New Yorker’s
David Grann. But Gray jettisoned the parallel
story of Grann’s present-day obsession with
the yarn and focused entirely on Fawcett, who
vanished in the Amazon in 1925 while searching
for the ancient Lost City Of Z. The postmodern
take, Gray believes, “has been done before, and
recently, and well. I igured that sometimes the
best way to go forward is to look backward.”
Well aware of the pitfalls of that approach,
Gray says political sensitivity to the colonial era
was crucial. He didn’t want to mimic Lawrence




Charlie Hunnam as
adventurer Colonel
Fawcett. Below: With
director James Gray
during filming. Bottom:
With his team of
in South America.
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