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A lyrical portrait that is equal parts journalism, speculation and tone poem, Eric Steel‘s Kiss the Water follows up his divisive The Bridge (about suicides at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) by attempting to understand an enigmatic woman who became a world-renowned maker of flies for salmon fishing. Quietly beautiful in ways that might win over viewers with no interest in fishing, it will seduce many at fests and, with the right attention, could be a small hit at the arthouse.
Megan Boyd, who lived in the Scottish Highlands, was an outsider even in childhood. She found an instructional book and taught herself fly-tying because she loved the look of the things: intricate and brightly colored, made of shiny thread and the feathers of exotic birds. In nicely presented close-ups of the painstaking process, Steel captures not only the beauty and variety of ties, but their suitability for artisans with OCD tendencies: One interviewee who trained with Boyd recalls that she made him spend months at a time on each of a fly’s components, always noting when he had wound a thread one too many or too few times around the hook.
Interviews are conducted against a black backdrop and at low volume, conferring a mysterious air to all but the most humorous observations. Anecdotes are interspersed with more atmospheric material: photography of the Scottish landscape and the rivers winding through it; artful animated sequences where thickly-textured impressionist paintings suggest underwater wildlife and human romance.
Those animations take liberties with the subject, imagining romantic yearnings that Steel seemingly assumes Boyd must have had. They also invite too-literal interpretation. Members of the audience here were heard surmising, based on the a bit of painted action and the interviews’ elliptical nature toward the end, that Boyd killed herself after her eyesight made her unable to keep making flies. In fact, she lived a decade and a half after retiring. Their confusion demonstrates the film’s prioritization of atmosphere over dry facts. (Similarly, Steel refuses to show us pictures of his subject until the final scene, creating a reveal whose unnecessary drama is at odds with Boyd’s evident humility. (Though her 2001 New York Times obituary quotes a collector saying “a Megan Boyd fly is a $1,000 fly,” it claims she never charged more than a dollar for one.)
Humble or not, Boyd’s work eventually attracted royal attention. Prince Charles became a devoted customer, and his mother awarded her the British Empire Medal. Boyd couldn’t be bothered to come pick the thing up, so the Prince of Wales brought it by on his next visit to her unelectrified workshop.
Production Companies: Easy There Tiger, Slate Films
Director: Eric Steel
Producers: Eric Steel, Kate Swan
Executive producer: Andrea Calderwood
Director of photography: Ole Bratt Birkeland
Music: Paul Cantelon
Editor: Sabine Krayenbuhl
Sales: Eric Steel, Easy There Tiger
No rating, 80 minutes
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