UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

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.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image