If I told you Kiss the Water was a documentary about fly-fishing, I’d be left with 23 readers and the promise of a postbag-for-life from angling nutters. So, please, other readers, don’t turn the page. Eric Steel’s film is hypnotic. His last docu-feature, The Bridge (2006), was about people throwing themselves from the Golden Gate, a whole different way of “kissing the water”, though no less haunting and – perhaps – melancholic.
It’s this new film’s genius that its “loneliness of the artist” theme extends from the main human subject – Scottish spinster Megan Boyd, who lived in a solitary rural cottage crafting “flies” so beautiful they looked like mini-rainbows and caught not just salmon but also the eye and purse of Prince Charles – to the anglers themselves, reminiscing to camera on their solipsistic art. Gorgeous animation sequences, in Munch-like swirls of colour by Em Cooper, punctuate the subdued yet elegiac tone.
Perhaps the film overextends itself: 80 minutes is a long time to be picayune. But it makes fishing look an Edenic pastime, with Boyd’s iridescent feather/fur/hair creations proving that in a prelapsarian world even salmon can have the fine or fatal sensibility of art connoisseurs. Boyd herself, now dead, is pictured only at the end in a brief flicker of archive film. Before that we must imagine her ourselves, from friends’ description and remembrance. It’s our own fly-like task of creating something – something to cherish, ponder, be awed by – from near to nothing.