Sunday, May 06, 2012

Hot Docs Review: Low and Clear


“The biggest mistake made about fishing is that it is about catching fish”, these words spoken by J.T. Van Zandt perfectly sum up the point of the film Low and Clear. On the surface the film appears to mainly be about the art of fishing. However, as the film progresses it becomes clear that Low and Clear is really about the male bonding that comes with it. Directed by Tyler Hughen and Kahlil Hudson, the film highlights the longstanding friendship between Van Zandt and his pal Alex “Xenie” Hall. Brought together over their love of fishing, the two men share a bond, that while contentious at times, has managed to stay strong despite only seeing each other once or twice a year.

The film follows the two men as they embark on a fly-fishing trip to the rivers of British Columbia. Although they both share a love of fishing, the two men could not be more different. J.T finds the art of fishing to be an ethereal experience. It is in his meditative sanctuary where he is most in touch with life and nature. Xenie, on the other hand, views fishing as the ultimate adrenaline rush. Spending as much time as he can fishing, Xenie documents every single fishing outing he has ever taken. His house is filled with boxes and photo albums of every single fish he has ever caught. The stark contrast between these men is also apparent in their fishing styles. J.T. will spend hours in the same spot trying to perfect his style despite not catching any fish. Whereas Xenie is constantly moving around amassing as many captures as possible.


Hughen and Hudson capture the tension, both spoken and unspoken, that occurs between J.T. and Xenie on the trip. J.T.’s stubbornness mixed with Xenie’s wild man short fuse leads to many memorable conflicts. While the men’s friendship is at the forefront of the film, it must be noted that Low in Clear is a marvel from a technical standpoint. The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, as it features numerous shots that could easily be used in any photography magazine. Some of the most beautiful moments in the film come when Hughen and Hudson film J.T. fishing on his own. They frame him in such a way that the whole experience has a spiritual feel.

If there is one complaint to be had with Low and Clear, it is the fact that the film does not offer much insight into the men’s life outside of fishing. J.T. makes a few references to having a fiancée, but the audience never see her or gets her thoughts on J.T.’s fishing obsession. The same can be said for Xenie, beside his job selling firewood there is little about his life that is shared. In the final moments we see a woman appear, who we can only assume is his wife, but otherwise there are no words of what his family life or what friends he may have outside of J.T. While this does hinder the film a bit, Low and Clear is still a fascinating look at the strength of male friendship. Not since A River Runs Through It has a film involving fly-fishing been so gorgeous to look at.

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