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I’m a sucker for documentaries, I admit, and I usually like mine weird. Kiss the Water was, however, almost too strange even for me; an ethereal fairy-tale of a film that shifts from talking heads to animation to archive footage in the blink of an eye. Directed and produced by Eric Steel of The Bridge fame, Kiss the Water is a film like few others; part tribute to Megan Boyd, one of the greatest artificial fly makers of all time. Part meditation on fishing, and part mysterious treatise on life itself, this odd little gem sticks in the mind for long afterwards, and like the best of fish flies, stubbornly refuses to dislodge itself.
Fresh from critical acclaim at festivals such as Tribeca and Vancouver, the idea for Kiss the Water was cast over ten years ago, when Steel read Boyd’s obituary in the American press. Captivated by her unusual life, Steel saw with his filmmaker’s eye the potential for story in the tale of eccentric British woman Boyd, who lived a solitary existence making dichotomous works of art which double as instruments of death, at least to salmon.
Fishing is well and truly mythologised in Kiss the Water, and as a resolute non-fisher myself, it was fascinating to get a glimpse into a sub-culture that is far richer than expected. Anglers will find plenty to interest them here, of course, but fans of the Scottish Highlands, traditional country pursuits and of good, thorough film-making will also appreciate Steel’s achievements. Kiss the Water’s greatest strength is its fearlessness in ambition and format. Juxtaposing whimsical animation with the many talking heads was inspired, giving the documentary a distinctness and character all its own. Em Cooper’s inventive animation coalesces perfectly with Paul Cantelon’s beautifully haunting score and Gerda Stevenson’s equally evocative narration to transport the viewer on a journey which extends much further than expected.
One of the true joys of fishing (so I’m reliably told) is the time it gives the angler in question to think, to ponder and meditate on the world and existence; often this is the real reason people are drawn to the water, the attraction lying in more than the fish. Steel’s enchanting film is as meditative as fishing itself, and the director admits as much to TribecaFilm.com, commenting that ‘Kiss theWater is not your typical documentary experience. I’d say it’s more about letting your mind wander into a very unusual world.’ It’s unfair to dismiss the talking heads too, as I did earlier; the interviewees all knew Megan, or knew of her, and Kiss the Water offers an equally interesting insight into their versions of her, and their own relationships with fishing. Her most famous client, Prince Charles, is regrettably not featured, though the animation takes an interesting, analogous turn when Princess Diana is mentioned.
Overall, Kiss the Water feels much longer than its 80 minutes, in a good, beguiling way. Steel’s work is brilliantly weird, haunting the mind and the memory long after the final credits roll. You find yourself drawn inexorably towards it again, like the salmon to the fly, perhaps. An ode to fishing, to nature, and above all, to a very interesting, individual woman, Kiss the Water is an experience lovers of something different should not miss. It is hard not to wonder, once the ethereal, mesmerising music and narration stops, just how many more lives as rich in their own idiosyncrasies are out there, waiting for filmmakers like Steel to tell their stories to the world.