Kissing the Water

Posted on Wed 15 Jan 2014
Kiss The Water - now screening

On Fri 17 Jan we welcome Kiss The Water, a hypnotic documentary about fly fishing, to our screens. Stop right there - even if you don't know your arbors from your bobbins, this film is for you. Its subject is Megan Boyd, an enigmatic Scottish woman who dedicated her solitary life to making fishing flies, flies so beautiful and iridescent that they caught the eye of not just your regular anglers (and plenty of salmon), but royalty too.

It is a quietly stunning film - one that will seduce you if you give it a chance. Kate Swan, Kiss The Water's Bristol-based producer, will join us on Mon 20 Jan for a Q&A after the 18:00 screening, but to give you a little taster, she kindly agreed to speak to us in this short interview, which you can watch below. You can also read a great post from Professor of Screen Media Jon Dovey on fishing, the film, and how it "takes a tiny corner of human life and makes delight through its illumination". Thanks to Kate and Jon - enjoy.

Reflections from Jon Dovey - Professor of Screen Media, University of the West of England (and Fisherman)

In Brora in the far North East of Scotland lies a tiny house at the side of a long glen with a deserted shed that is the centre of this elegiac documentary. Megan Boyd's cottage, and more importantly her now abandoned fly tying shed, offers us a little window into the human and natural landscape of the Highlands. Eric Steel's new documentary Kiss the Water almost smells of heather and peat, of whisky and leather. This enchanting film tells Megans's story; an eccentric cross dresser, country dancer and reckless driver who made her living by tying bespoke flies to catch the Atlantic Salmon that run up Scotland's rivers.

Hairy Mary, the Willie Gunn, the White Lady and Moonshine - Salmon flies are given quixotic names, invested with the hopes of fishermen. Tied with ivory and gold, with silk and swans' feathers, blue floss, silver tinsel, red hairs from a baby's head with tippet from a morning dove. A salmon fly is a beautiful thing, each one a tiny work of art, startlingly vibrant in vermillion and gold, electric blue and every shade of green.

Lovingly recreated here, Megan Boyd's creations are shown in all their glory, "Give it life", was the advice she gave to a novice fly tyer, "You must give it life." In another time and place Megan could have been a milliner, building crazed fascinators for society ladies. In Brora she laboured by candle light in her shed, making hundreds of thousands of flies sold in envelopes under the bench in her yard, to be collected by the local lads, gentry and even royalty who would tramp up her muddy track and leave half a crown for every fly that offered them the magic chance of catching a fish.

This biography is woven around a mystery as profound as transubstantiation. Why do these beautiful and powerful creatures allow themselves to be duped by the gaudily disguised but iron barbed fisherman's hook? For nobody knows why a salmon will take a fly on one day, another the same time the next, none at all the day after that. The natural history of Salmo Salar is already an epic of migration. Salmon leave the freshwaters where they are spawned to grow big and strong gorging on krill off Greenland, returning only when it is time for them to mate.

Then by some unknown combination of DNA, magnetic navigation and smell they are able to find their way back to the very river, and the very pools in which they were spawned in order to mate themselves. Once journeying upriver the salmon does not feed, it has reproduction on its mind. And yet, with a modicum of skill, a lot of luck and the right fly these king predators can be caught. Mercifully these days most of those caught are put back, gone are the days of plenty when the gentry who made Scotland their playground killed fish mindlessly. Today's fisherman, despite the tweeds and green wellies, are all about conservation and ecological awareness.

The elements that make up Kiss the Water are combined tenderly by Em Cooper's animations, oil painted hand made sequences swirl between water and air, land and sea, giving us a reflection and meditation on the story. The animations, and Paul Cantelon's score, build a unique atmosphere for this film. This is one of those films that its hard to imagine the pitch for: 'I want to make a film about an obscure dead woman from North East Scotland who tied Salmon Flies for a living, she was really fascinating. Trust me.' A film that takes a tiny corner of human life and makes delight through its illumination. Very few of these film ideas see the light of day. Give thanks that this is one that didn't get away.

See Kiss The Water at Watershed from Fri 17 Jan.