Chuck Jaffee: Fishing for reviews
December 20, 2017
(Editor's Note: This is the first of a four-week series of Prospector reviews leading up to the 16th Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Jan. 11-15, 2018.)
A Steelhead Quest: Portrait of a Rivered Life
Terry and Jerry Myers are ranchers. They love the outdoors. They love fly fishing. They fly fish very well. Sarah Menzies — director of "A Steelhead Quest: Portrait of a Rivered Life" — says it's evident that Terry isn't "just some angler's wife." Indeed, she grew up with a pack of brothers who never acted like she was the girl.
"A Steelhead Quest" revolves around Terry Myers pursuing a goal to catch a steelhead every month of the year in a different river. She fished every month. She caught steelhead every month except May and July. Terry and husband Jerry bent their rules a tad. It had to be all 12 calendar months but not 12 in a row.
The grace in Terry's demeanor, the looks on Jerry's face and wisecracks he makes, these are reasons enough to see this film.
The following are excerpts from a conversation with the director, Sarah Menzies:
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Chuck Jaffee: This is a charmer of a film about a married couple. Much as I get a kick out of the husband, Jerry, this at its heart is mostly about the wife, Terry, right?
Sarah Menzies: I'd say so. Jerry says this often. Much of their adult life centered around him, his work. She was doing his admin work. She was raising the kids. Terry came up with the goal. The quest was all hers, but you can tell Jerry had a good time devoting to it.
CJ: What did you enjoy most about your time with Terry?
SM: You learn from her that whatever it is, you [identify] what's important and do it… She's passionate. She isn't going to back down.
CJ: What did you enjoy most about your time with Jerry?
SM: He knows how to make a joke…. He has the biggest heart. He loves Terry so much. He's into partnership and support. He comes off a little rough around the edges, but he's a softy.
CJ: What about not catching a steelhead in July?
SM: It wasn't a super bummer that she doesn't get one. No steelhead in July… the quest lives on.
CJ: [About Terry and Jerry, who are around sixty….]
SM: They're like high schoolers in love around each other…. There each other's number one person.
CJ: What's it like making sure you get the great light and composition into the fly casting shots?
SM: Luck…. We shot tons of footage. [In Alaska] we had two cameras filming Terry at all times. [One camera in Oregon] Terry was always moving. I was scrambling on rocks, moving cameras.
CJ: You're working on a film called "Afghan Cycles" about the Afghani women's Olympic bicycling team, right?
SM: For five years. It's my first feature length film…. Having Afghani women cyclists is an anomaly…. Western women in Afghanistan is a third gender….
CJ: Talking about "Afghan Cycles" is a whole other conversation; maybe one will get written up if the film gets into the 2019 Wild & Scenic Film Festival.
More than a weather-beaten face makes Malcom look like a fisherman. He prefers the hard work, day after livelong day. He relishes a lonely definition, doing what his mentor taught him when he was a teen. He breathes what needs doing, and that includes so many tasks besides catching fish.
Even if young people could afford to live in what used to be a vibrant British fishing village, you can't really make a living as a fisherman. That's without saying that few twenty-somethings would work as long and hard as 70-year-old Malcolm still works.
Not sociable in the way of so many town folk, Malcom is nonetheless a sturdy local citizen, practiced in a willingness to give what little one has.
Not a doting family man, he was nonetheless tried and true doing what he saw as his calling. He still comes home from the sea with a twinkle in his eye. "What would he do else?" his wife said.
An Austrian couple comes to live in the town. This broadens the character-rich qualities of the documentary called "Last Fisherman." Their presence (after being around a few years) fastens a modest link between the last fisherman and the future.
Though there's air aplenty about a tradition passing by, this life affirming film doesn't indulge in sadness. It delivers well the substance you might expect from such a documentary, without flapping any issues in the wind. It delivers a respectful, engaging tip of that hat to Malcolm.
Who is right? The generations-old fishermen of Gloucester, Massachusetts? They say that the Gulf of Maine contains an abundance of cod. Government rules and regulations make earning a living impossible.
The scientists say the cod population in the Gulf of Maine teeters on the brink of collapse. Without resting these waters from commercial fishing pressures, cod fishing will be no more.
The documentary "Sacred Cod: The Fight to Save America's Oldest Fishery" puts us uncomfortably in the middle of a dilemma. Few permit-carrying commercial fishermen remain in Gloucester.
The effects on related businesses deepens the erosion of the local fishing culture. Those who remain totter on decisions to sell their boats, to find — in middle age — other ways to earn a living.
Who are these government people, these environmentalists with bogus data, who want to shut down a way of life, who want to hurt families? Who are these fisherman in a deep fog about rising ocean temperatures due to climate change, about aggregated pockets of cod that may soon be no pockets of cod?
Could this "Sacred Cod" film have made it clearer who is right? Did the film appropriately balance its storytelling about angry, hurting, worried people? This film isn't so much about controversy as it is about unsettled and tugged realities.
"Sacred Cow" is an involving hour. It's easy to relate to the plight of this segment of our economics and culture. Good spirit to us all, maintaining right and balance.
Chuck Jaffee of Grass Valley likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at http://www.startlets.com.