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Lost in the Amazon

A fantastical pilgrimage is captured in this television documentary

By Richard Wright

Directed by Peter von Puttkamer
Gryphon Productions
VisionTV: Sept. 14, 10 p.m. EST

Col. Percy Fawcett was born in Devon, England, in 1867. When, where and how he died, though, is a mystery — the “enigma” of this half-hour television documentary. His story is a cautionary tale about a spiritual quest that became an obsession.

Fawcett was a British artillery officer, archeologist and explorer. His exploits inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World, and some say Fawcett was the model for the movie hero Indiana Jones. But the reality of his life is truly stranger than fiction.

In 1925, Fawcett, with his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimmel, set out on a quest to the Mato Grosso province of western Brazil. Their aim was to locate a lost city, referred to by Fawcett as “Z.” Fawcett, a theosophist and follower of the occultist Helena Blavatsky, believed that Z was the home of a superior race of “Earth Guardians,” members of a “Great White Brotherhood” responsible for safeguarding the spiritual well-being of humankind. He also believed that Jack had been born a member of this Guardian brotherhood and would assume his proper role upon reaching Z.

The early stages of this fantastical pilgrimage were documented in dispatches Fawcett sent from the jungle that were published in newspapers and read by millions around the world. But then the dispatches petered out. Despite dozens of search and rescue attempts, the three men were never seen or heard from again.

Director Peter von Puttkamer tells this story using multiple devices to flesh out the narrative, including interviews with scholars, archivists and surviving heirs. He makes lavish use of archival still photos and employs dramatized recreations of key moments in Fawcett’s voyage. Present-day adventurer Niall McCann guides the camera as the documentary crew retraces Fawcett’s steps up to Dead Horse Camp.

Sometimes these techniques impede rather than strengthen the story. McCann is an awkward presenter, and his questions feel uncomfortably staged. Sometimes the narrative thread becomes tangled as the story lurches inelegantly from point to point. Sometimes the writing is too melodramatic for the content it seeks to express. Another serious flaw, especially for a documentary, is its failure to mention that Fawcett was a proponent of eugenics, the reviled science of racial engineering associated with Nazism. None of these faults, though, can spoil a good yarn. The film holds one’s attention to the end.

So, does Lost in the Amazon unravel the enigma? That would be telling too much, wouldn’t it? Tune in and find out.

Richard Wright is a writer in Toronto.




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