Greetings again from the darkness. I missed this one during it’s festival run last year, but being a lifelong fan of the late great songwriter Townes Van Zandt, I was of course curious in a project that featured his first born son (John Townes Van Zandt II). While the facial resemblance is clear and a Townes song is included, this little documentary stands tall on its own thanks to stunning cinematography and a spiritual look into how a love of fishing bonds a couple of men over the years.
We are first introduced to J.T. on the Texas Gulf Coast, as he explains that it’s a mistake to assume the purpose of fishing is catching fish, and that instead, fishing is “a micro-examination of life itself”. Just as we are settling into J.T.’s zen-like approach to life and fishing, we are startled back into reality thanks to the shouted profanity and ear-piercing chainsaw wielded by Alex “Xenie” Hall, a fishing legend in Colorado.
These two first crossed paths many years ago as Xenie became J.T.’s fishing mentor. The river and the solemnity of fishing created a bond between two very different men. As the years passed, they saw less of each other, until a planned trip to British Columbia reunited them in the only way they can really communicate … rod in hand, waist deep in water. It’s this trip where we (and they) truly come to understand what polar opposites they are. J.T. soaks in the beauty and peace of nature in his quest for the perfect cast, while Xenie is on an adrenaline rush to catch and document as many fish as possible … gleefully shouting “I’m healed” after a particularly successful catch.
Very few movies or stories deal directly with the emotions involved in male bonding: rivalry, support, introspection. To see this between two such different personality types is quite interesting … especially since most every shot in the movie could be directly from a nature photography exhibit. When J.T. says he is at his best and worst while fishing, we immediately understand that it’s the only time he can truly be himself.
It’s difficult to tell if the lack of background or “non-fishing” life of these two is a strength or weakness of the film, but it matters little. As a character study or work of art, co-directors Khalil Hudson and Tyler Hughen provide us a look at real life that dwarfs the fictionalized fly-fishing tale of A River Runs Through It.