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'Kiss the Water' Director Eric Steel On His Interest In Fly Fishing

'Kiss the Water' dives into the solitary and unusual life of Megan Boyd, an Englishwoman who became legendary for her fishing fly-making prowess and penchant for wearing men's clothing. Director Eric Steel talks about what reeled him in the most.

Tribeca: When you decided to make Kiss The Water, what were the first steps you took to finding your interview subjects? (Basically, how did you find these people?)

Eric Steel: Scotland has a terrific organization called Creative Scotland that supports the arts, including film making. They gave me a grant and I travelled to the Scottish Highlands, to the town where Megan Boyd lived, and simply looked around for people who might have known her. Since Megan Boyd passed away in 2001, most of those people were like town elders were incredibly generous with their time and stories. I also camped out in the fishing tackle shop because everyone who went in either knew Megan or knew her work. I believe one of the prerequisites for being a good fly fisher-man or woman is being a great storyteller.

Tribeca: One of the things I found really intriguing was not seeing any photos of Megan until the very end (even though we hear several physical descriptions of what she looked like). What was the reasoning behind this choice as a director?

ES: For some reason, when I cut out Megan Boyd's obituary from The New York Times, I didn't clip the photograph, only the text. I spent a lot of time reading the words, not looking at her picture. As much as the film is about Megan Boyd, the woman who made the most magical fishing flies in the world, it is also about the Megan Boyd in my imagination. I wanted the viewer to create his or her own ideas and images of Megan Boyd.

It's an invitation to a fairy tale

Tribeca: Can you talk about the process of creating the watercolor animation used in between interviews? 

ES: The animator, Em Cooper, has a very top secret process of painting over shot footage. She actually uses oil paint. I've never seen anything like it. I'd rather not give away too much of the magic.

Tribeca: Do you yourself have an interest in fishing? What compelled you most about Megan Boyd as a person?

ES: I'd never fly fished before nor been to Scotland. I don't even eat salmon. At first, I think I was fascinated with the very romantic notion of a woman all alone in a tiny cottage, spinning exotic feathers and fur into fishing flies into these tiny works of art. Maybe there was a part of me that fantasized about that kind of monastic and creative life. Over time, though, I began to see between the lines — to imagine that the life she led was very different from the way people talked about it. It was these strange glimpses that made me want to explore further.

Tribeca: Is there a particular message you wish to send out with this movie?

ES: I don't believe in telling people what to think. I would rather people left the audience with questions and ideas they come back to — rather than send them off with a message that they can deposit with the empty box of popcorn. Kiss the Water is not your typical documentary experience. I'd say its more about letting your mind wander into a very unusual world.

Tribeca: What do you hope audiences take away from Kiss the Water?

ES: Fishing flies are about the size of your thumb. You can only understand how beautiful one is by unwinding it and trying to put it back together again. Stephen Jay Gould, who was one of the great science writers of all time, and who died a year after Megan Boyd, once said "We reveal ourselves in the metaphors we choose for depicting the cosmos in miniature."  Megan Boyd's entire world — her life, livelihood, love and loneliness — were quite literally wrapped up in her flies. It's a pretty perfect metaphor.

I wanted the viewer to create his or her own ideas and images of Megan Boyd.

Tribeca: What are you most looking forward to at Tribeca?

ES: So few people have seen Kiss the Water at this point— mostly just the programmers from Tribeca! I'm eager (and also a bit terrified) to show it to a great NYC audience. I'm hoping that a lot of the same people who came to see my first film The Bridge at Tribeca in 2006 will come to see Kiss the Water and give me their honest opinion on how I'm doing as a filmmaker.

Tribeca: What makes Kiss the Water a Tribeca must see?

ES: I think its probably one of the most beautiful documentaries you will ever see and, at the same time, it's an invitation to a fairy tale. How can you turn that down?

Kiss The Water premieres Monday, April 22, at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea. For more information and additional showtimes, please visit our Film Guide listing



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