Film Preview: The Search for Shangri-la, 5 – 6 February, Glasgow Film Theatre

1 Feb
Search for Shangri-la

Search for Shangri-la courtesy BFI

I have something of a soft spot for the legend of Shangri-la, the idea that there’s a mystical city nestled somewhere in the Tibetan mountains where man can live an eternity in peace appealing to that little bit of Indiana Jones hidden somewhere inside me.

Never mind that the “legend” was invented in 1933 by author James Hilton for his novel Lost Horizon: it’s an enduringly romantic idea that still gives travellers inspiration today.

So I was pleased to see that the BFI (British Film Institute) are currently touring a new film around the country, one which this week offers film fans in Glasgow to take a trip back to another time, and another continent, to witness life in Tibet between 1922 – 1950 in The Search for Shangri-la.

Footage, shot by British explorers and dignitaries who passed through Tibet in the years leading up to the area’s occupation by the Chinese in 1950, has been pulled together into a stunning film which is part history lesson and part travelogue.

Starting with the first filmed record of Tibet, taken during the 1922 attempt to climb Everest, the British party responsible were permitted by the Dalai Lama to travel through Tibet en route to the fabled mountain.

Accompanied by a new score, evoking the music of the region, we watch as the explorers traverse crevasse and river in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the locals, always careful to respect their customs.

We’re then taken on through the decades, witness to both monochrome and colour footage, the latter exploding on to the screen as villagers perform rituals and dances for their guests as the music soars behind them.

There’s even a glimpse of the young Dalai Lama himself, peering out at the crowds by the side of the road as he’s carried along.

Two sequences show footage taken by George and Betty Sheriff , the couple who ran the British Mission from 1943 to 1945. George was also a legendary plant collector in Bhutan and Tibet.

George created a garden at the residency, often visited by local dignitaries, including the Dalai Lama’s family. The following, fairly lengthy extract, comes near the end of the film and captures the thoughts of Betty Sheriff as she recalls her time there with her husband during her retirement in Kirriemuir, Scotland:

The Search for Shangri-la is fascinating and eerily beautiful glimpse at a time long gone, one that shouldn’t be missed on the big screen.

Find out more over on the Glasgow Film Theatre website.

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