Shangri-La, Paradise under Construction

A playful travelogue through Shangri-La; a fictitious paradise from the classic novel Lost Horizon. A Tibetan tourist place in China recently presented scientific proof to be the real thing. This film excavates layers of fact and fiction of the place to find the elusive truth to be in the hands of tourists and filmmakers themselves.  


Exactly twenty years ago today, news spread around the globe that Shangri-La was found. Zhongdian, a Tibetan region in the South-West of China had found scientific evidence to be the real thing. This was quite impossible, because Shangri-La is a fiction, a paradise devised by James Hilton for his novel Lost Horizon. Hilton had never even been in China at all, he wrote the book in his study in London at the time of the great depression in 1933. The story, which is about four westerners who crash their plane into a mythical Tibetan Paradise, was an instant best seller. Shangri-La became a dream longed for by many Westerners: films were made about it, songs were dedicated to it, and resorts and restaurants were named after it. Thus, it won’t be a surprise that the evidence Zhongdian delivered to prove it was Shangri-La was quite controversial; It seemed nothing more than a marketing stunt.

Curious about the name change Mirka traveled to the area, camera in hand. She wondered: what happens to a place that is destined to be paradise? 

With precision and imagination, the filmmaker digs through the layers of facts and fictions of the place, thus constantly shifting the view on the mystery. She leads the viewer through the forest of stories that came into existence in the valley over the course of the past twenty years. What words have attached themselves to the facts and how have they become myths? How do stories come to life? How do they relate to reality? What are the consequences of that? And how do you contribute as a tourist?

70 minutes, in development

Produced by: Momento Films, IDA|IDA and De Productie

Director: Mirka Duijn

Funded by the Dutch Film Fund