Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is Low and Clear a Departure for Fly Fishing Filmmaking?

I am a little late to the party here, but I finally managed to see the trailer for "Low and Clear."  Like The Trout Underground, I don’t want to pass judgment on the thing having only seen a trailer, but I did come away cautiously optimistic that this could be a very interesting film.

The problem I have had with much of the previous work that has been generated during what I think of as the birth of fly fishing filmmaking was the lack of human storytelling. I don’t mind movies that simply batter me into submission with lovely images of fish and fisherman (and mice) and the places and ways those things tend to meet. I can enjoy that type of work. Its entertainment that doesn’t really require me to think (except maybe think of how I might go to those same places or catch similar fish, which isn’t bad). However, I struggle to identify with anyone actually in the film because the fisherman are often simply props for the real subject: the fishing itself.

As long as there have been humans, we humans have told stories. Drawings on a wall, oral traditions, songs, books, magazines, blogs, and, yes movies are all vehicles that we use to tell each other tales. It seems we can’t get enough stories. I marvel at the way a story can stop my four-year-old daughter in her tracks, rapt concentration replacing the endless stick-and-move attention span that dominates most of her waking hours. Stories have a hold on us.

And the best stories are often stories about people. Stories about what makes them tick, how they overcame great odds, how they ended up doing what they did, how they failed, how they succeeded, how they somehow managed to do both at the same time. The how and why of people are at the heart of good stories.

This is the element missing from so many fly fishing films from the last ten years or so: people. Sure, they were there—we all remember the troutbums—though I can’t remember any of their names. But mostly we remember the fish. The people ultimately filled the role of fish-catching machines. And there is nothing wrong with that per se (a lot of people love those movies). But stories about fisherman rather than fish are the next logical step in creating a robust and varied fly fishing film canon.

Based on the trailer, Low and Clear is attempting to go down this path. It’s a story of two fisherman with a long history and plenty of differences and the eternal quest for steelhead. One angler is a “fishing isn’t about catching fish” kind of guy and the other claims “that’s horsesh*t.” The first, more philosophical, angler is actually John Townes (J.T.) Van Zandt, the oldest son of the late great Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt.* There is even a scene near the end of the trailer where J.T. plays Townes’ “Waitin’ Round to Die.”

*In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am a massive fan of Townes Van Zandt and have been for many years. He is a songwriter unlike any other in my opinion. His songs are sad and hopeful and heartbreakingly beautiful. If you want to hear the power of storytelling, go download Steve Earle or Willie Nelson's version of the classic Townes’ song "Marie," which is a tale of homelessness, tragedy, and what it means to be human.

Its only a trailer, but I am excited to see if the filmmakers truly attempted to capture a tale about fishermen rather than a tale about fishing. And if they did, I am even more excited to see if they succeeded. Documentary filmmaking is a medium I enjoy, and mixing it with fly fishing, a good story, and good characters has the makings of a new dawn in fly fishing film.

The trailer is embedded below for those that are interested.

LOW & CLEAR Official Trailer from Finback Films on Vimeo.


  1. Thanks. Seeing and hearing JT was worth the time

  2. Well JT certainly bears an uncanny resemblance to his father. I imagine Townes would have been a heckuva fly fisherman.