Flyover video footage shot with cameras mounted under small helicopters is the new black in fly-fishing films, but although we do see more and more of these dynamic and breathtaking shots, I'm not growing tired of them... yet. Unlike stop motion and time lapse, these sequences actually really add to my experience and thrill when I watch a video.
And already in the intro to Gaula I get my share - of chopper shots as well as stop motion and time lapse. The chopper shots give me a perfect perspective of the river, and once the angler is put in the fly-over pictures, I get a perfect impression of this mighty river, its size, its topography and its beauty.
Daniel Göz and Anton Hamacher - the guys behind the film - mix the various video effects with the most beautifully shot sequences of the river, the angler casting, salmon traversing a rapid, a fly underwater - all with the best perspective, the right lens choices, follow focus and all the traits that mark professional film-making when it's best.
And this is about as good as it gets.
We get the casting, the fly underwater, the hookup and the landing in a perfect mix of aerial shots, closeups, distant shots using telephoto lenses, underwater sequences and a great cutting between the different angles and perspectives. Mouthwatering to say the least.
In spite of these delightfully shot fishing scenes, this is in essence a conservation video. It's about the environment and the effort to keep the Norwegian river Gaula the perfect and almost undisturbed water that it is. As such it steps in the footprints of many a recent fly-fishing video, where documentation is as important as conveying the experience of fishing.
We get interviews, background, history and all that we expect to get from a documentary.
The Gaula is a special river in Norway, because the river flows freely and hasn't been utilized for hydro-electric power. Escaped farmed fish and sea lice is a problem as in almost all other Norwegian salmon rivers. Farming and damming is the case in the far majority of Norway's salmon rivers leading to disease, hybridization and blocking the spawning runs for the wild salmon, which again has led to some of the poorest fishing years for decades in many of these rivers.
Unlike many documentary style videos, this video also has instructions and tips on how to fish. Some are quite general (have patience, cast a lot), but there are also tips on fly choice, a bit about C&R and other useful information. It's not a how to video, but more like an appetizer for salmon anglers looking for places to go. The sequences showing fly tying on the bank or in the cabin are not instructional as such - and not meant to be - but just adds immensely to the ambiance and the feeling of being there.
The narration is done excellently by Susan Tackenberg, but the script, written by Friedrich Binder and translated by Andreas Hemming, is just a bit to bland and antispetic for my taste, bringing the mood of the otherwise outstanding video down just a notch.
I wish that platitudes like "Catching a fish on a self-made fly is especially rewarding", "Every fishing day raises new questions" and "Even the most dedicated effort sometimes fails to pay off" had been replaced with more enthusiastic and personal observations from the filmmakers or the participants. I know it's unfair to compare this extremely well produced and smooth feature to the more grungy, hand held productions, but I honestly miss a bit of swearing and unkempt, hungover anglers acting crazy.
As an example it's a very welcome and engaging break in the smooth and perfect flow when an angler tries to catch a salmon trapped in a small pool after a flood and manages to release it into the river after having chased it around the small puddle for a while. A fun and fast paced intermezzo. I'd like to have seen more sequences like this. Things that can break the almost too perfect pace of the film.
I know it's unfair to criticize something for being perfect, but it is sometimes the imperfections, the surprises and the abrupt breaks in pace that leaves the deepest impressions, while the season's changing - summer, fall, winter, spring - surprises no one, and the spawning ritual of the salmon, however beautiful and technically perfect it's shown, as it is here, has been seen many times before.
I know it's unfair to criticize something for being perfect,
All this said it would still be unfair to judge this film by its flaws, when there honestly are none... all of the above is of course based on my personal taste, preferences and expectations, and I'm sure that a vast majority of those who watch will be awestruck by the beauty of the images and the fascinating story of a perfect salmon river and its stunningly beautiful fish.
And when they have seen the film, they will be left with nothing but the urge to get out and fish for salmon, and experience the beauty of an undisturbed river, which in my eyes is the hallmark of a good fishing video.
So giving the video anything but top score would not be reasonable, even though I would have done so with less hesitation if there had been just a bit more of a personal touch to the production. But Global Class it is!
More about the film Gaula - River of Silver and Gold on the web site made for the film. You can also buy the DVD or Blu-ray disc on the site.
A preview of the video
Daniel Göz' web site
Our interview with the filmmakers Daniel Göz and Anton Hamacher
A stunning and beautifully filmed portrait of the Norwegian salmon river Gaula.