The Search for Shangri La

Launched to mark His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to the UK, this collection of rarely seen films provides a remarkably vivid portrait of life in Tibet prior to the Chinese occupation of 1950.

For centuries Tibet has captured the imagination of the West – for better and worse – as a place of magic, mysticism and considerable strategic importance. The invasion of 1904 led by Younghusband was a bloody and brutal start to Britain’s close involvement in Tibet over the next 5 decades. However, British filmmakers went on to record the everyday life of Tibet that has now vanished.

Extracts from a number of films in this collection have been included in the BBC documentary The Lost World of Tibet, but here is the chance to see them – and many others – whole and unedited. From scenes of ploughing with yaks to records of some of the most important Buddhist ceremonies, they portray a country where religious festivals occupied 68 days of the year – on an epic scale.

Many highlights are to be found in the amateur films. These include the films of plant hunter and botanist George Sherriff (his love of nature is reflected in the remarkable jewel-like colours of his films); Medical Officer James Guthrie, whose more unusual duties included removing a cyst from the eye of one of the Dalai Lama’s peacocks; and Frederick Bailey: Political Agent, butterfly collector and spy.

Five to try

Epic of Everest (1924)

Captain Noel’s potent record of Mallory and Irvine’s ill-fated Everest expedition.

Mrs Williamson’s Tibetan Films (1932-35)

Amateur films by Peggy Williamson – famed for holding the first children’s party in Lhasa.

Sir Basil Gould’s Amateur Films (1936-41)

Tibetan life through the eyes of the British Political Officer.

Tibetan Scenes (1943-47)

Life in Tibet recorded by Chinese Commissioner Shen Tsien-lien.

The Lost World of Tibet (2008)

Includes a revealing interview with the Dalai Lama reminiscing about his childhood.

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