Early in the 2012 documentary Low and Clear, one of the two main characters, J.T. Van Zandt, remarks, “the biggest mistake about fishing is that it’s about catching fish.” It would have been easy for the filmmakers to make this mistake themselves…fortunately they do not. Though it’s ostensibly about a fly fishing trip taken by J.T. and his friend Alex “Xenie” Hall, Low and Clear doesn’t really have much to do with fly fishing. Its stunning visuals pull you into a quiet, leisurely-paced meditation on the nature of friendship…how do people become friends, can they stay friends as their lives change, and if so, how?
J.T. and Xenie are almost completely different in personality and lifestyle. Fly fishing and love and respect for nature are the things they have in common, and they even differ in their approaches to that. Short-tempered Xenie lives to fish and arranges his life around it, while mellow J.T. has a more balanced life, with a fiancée, a job and a house. They met when J.T. was working in a fly fishing store and Xenie was the local legend. Their relationship has developed from teacher-student to one of mutual respect and fierce competition. They both at times interpret the other’s choices as a judgement on their own, and though they are important influences on each other, J.T. describes their relationship now as “combative.”
This dynamic comes to the fore on their trip. As J.T. also stated early on, when people are fishing, “personalities come out and you can’t hide it.” Xenie sticks to his tried-and-true methods and routine, obsessively photographing every fish he catches, while J.T. has decided to use the time to learn some new techniques and isn’t getting even a nibble. Xenie gloats and tries to give advice as J.T. becomes more and more frustrated yet refuses to budge. It’s clear that, like any other friends who’ve drifted apart, they’ve become separated in a million different little ways.
There’s no fighting, gunplay, special effects, or explosions. No one gets marooned in the Canadian wilderness. It’s just two guys talking about themselves and each other, and gorgeous photography by the directors Kahlil Hudson and Tyler Hughen. The Gulf Coast of Texas (J.T.’s home), Colorado (Xenie’s territory), and British Columbia (where they take their trip) never looked better. The film’s pace is slower than audiences are used to, but if you’re patient, you’ll get some food for thought on friendship and the meaning of life, and a reminder of the breathtaking beauty of the natural world.
Low and Clear is playing in the metro Detroit area on Tuesday, July 30 as part of Gathr’s preview series at the Maple Theater. You can win free series tickets by emailing email@example.com with your name and subject line “CMB.” Good luck!
After the series, the films will be available for Gathr’s Theatrical-On-Demand service, which allows moviegoers to request screenings of indie films at their local theater. For more information, visit the Gathr site.