Eric Steel teaches us to Kiss the Water
Eric Steel, director of the poetic documentary Kiss the Water, teaches us of the life and lost art of making fishing flies, and one of its legendary makers, Megan Boyd.
In 2001, long before he would describe himself as a filmmaker, Eric Steel was struck by the life story of Scotswoman Megan Boyd.
“I’ve been reading obituaries for as long as I can remember,” said Steel. “Certainly by the time I was in college I’d start the day by reading the obituaries in the newspaper. I happened upon Megan's obituary in the New York Times and something about it – something that I still don’t think I can pinpoint precisely – caught me. I clipped it out and put it on my board and said, alright, there’s something here.”
Over a decade later he took his idea to Creative Scotland. “It’s still hard for me to appreciate the fact that I told them my idea, which was pretty amorphous at the time, not knowing if there was a movie in Megan Boyd’s life, and yet they were willing to support that artistic endeavour,” said Steel. “They funded an initial trip over here and we drove up to where Megan lived, to her house, around the town. As soon as we asked about her in these places, the people who knew her lit up.
"So you knew right away that we had touched the vein of something. The community had a vested interest in her and in her spirit. You could feel traces of her still around. People were still holding onto flies she’d made or feathers she had given them.”
Boyd’s salmon flies became sought after, and eventually caught on around town. Eventually she caught the attention of Prince Charles himself, leading to some pleasing metaphors on Steel’s part. “She had this saying: You don’t make the flies to catch the fish, you make the flies to catch the fisherman.”
He also uses fishing metaphors to describe his process of making the film and telling the story of Megan Boyd and her life’s work and the further art it facilitated.
“There’s one thing I learned which is that the magic of fishing, or the skill set of it, part of it is learning how to cast – but the prerequisite is being a good storyteller. As soon as people started telling us these stories we were like, wow, this is seriously rich.
“I liked this idea that there was mystery to it... something beneath the surface. But it was never something that you could capture, it was something you could touch or feel for moments but never capture in the frame.
I think the storytelling is a process like fishing: you cast out a line, pull it in, and see what you’ve pulled in. I think you get closer and closer, and hopefully get a sense of what this woman was like and what her life was like. Almost more like a feeling than a definition. That was the way we went about it. Her life wasn’t really an article, it was a kind of poem.”
Kiss the Water screens today, Tuesday 25 June, 18:15 at Edinburgh Cineworld. Buy your tickets online, by phone on 0131 623 8030, or at any Film Festival Box Office.