The Lost City of Z filmed in Belfast and Colombia
True-life exploration movie The Lost City of Z used Belfast in Northern Ireland as a production base but director James Gray also filmed scenes on location in Colombia.
The film is based on the true story of the early 20th century British explorer Percy Fawcett, who led expeditions into the Amazon rainforest in search of evidence of a lost civilisation. Fawcett also fought in the trenches of the Somme during the First World War.
Production was based in Northern Ireland for five weeks of filming, using locations in and around Belfast, and was supported with funding from Northern Ireland Screen.
“Absolutely everything was changed,” says Andrew Wilson, the film’s location manager, in comments to KFTV. “Given that we were filming a period piece, even the period locations we used were changed - the decor, colours of walls, drapes – any modernity removed – the dressing and all props.
“Recreating the battlefields of the Somme (at Antrim Hills outside Belfast) was also a very difficult ask on a relatively modest budget – it took a lot of scouting to find exactly the correct geography where we could shoot 360 (degrees) and have the freedom to create the trenches and explosions.”
Scenes set in the Amazon were filmed near Santa Marta, a city on northern Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. Jungle locations were scouted around the world, but producers on The Lost City of Z had connections to previous projects that had shot in Colombia.
Gray and his team settled on the Sierra Nevada and the Don Diego River area of the Tayrona National Park near Santa Marta. The region was already known to Hollywood historically as it was where Roland Joffe filmed his period movie The Mission in the mid-1980s with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons.
The Lost City of Z qualified for Colombia’s filming incentive, getting approval for the financial support within ten days of applying.
“This was a project that was out there for a long time with different production companies, cast and budget sizes,” says Silvia Echeverri, head of the Colombian Film Commission, in comments to KFTV.
“In the past, without an incentive it was a hard challenge to have the film shoot in the country. Finally, the film benefited from the rebate offered in Colombia and got back around 30% of their expenses.”
Felipe Aljure has an executive producer credit on The Lost City of Z and worked on the film through his Bogota service company Cinempressa, helping organise the national park shoot.
“Although it’s a location 70 km (44 miles) long and seven kilometres (four miles) wide, we still were a couple of hours away from the city of Santa Marta where we had an international airport, medical facilities, electronic banking, shops and other facilities,” says Aljure, of the Sierra Nevada locations, in comments to KFTV.
The production team worked hard to achieve a balance between having access to natural jungle locations and providing the necessary modern infrastructure to support the large-scale shoot.
“We had to get a company from a different state to come and install towers and internet services, and we had to hire a small motel and refurbish it to make it into production offices,” says Aljure.
The crew in fact had to be spread between different local hotels due to the limited number of available rooms. A dedicated transport unit moved everyone backwards and forwards between the filming locations and the hotels, and also played an active role in bringing in tribal members from the Venezuelan border area to the east to get different looks among the supporting and background cast.
Half a dozen temporary tribal sets were built across the 44-mile filming zone in the jungle. All had to comply with health and safety regulations, as well as clearing environmental impact surveys.
“We were shooting in Belfast at the same time as we were in pre-production on the Colombian shoot,” Aljure says. “The Belfast crew, talent and gear arrived only a week before our first shooting day in the jungle, making the challenges even greater.
“It all went well, fortunately, and due to a strong dollar and production efficiency we were able to save a lot of money while keeping the value needed on-screen and behind it.”
Colombia has become a more practical international filming location since launching a base 40% filming incentive, with additional savings available for projects that hire local service companies.
The highest-profile production of recent years has been the Netflix drama series Narcos, charting the rise and fall of infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s.
For more on filming in Colombia see our production guide.
Images: Aidan Monaghan/LCOZ Holdings