First You Survive Bangkok – Then Comes The Jungle

Review by Mark Hume with Photography by Travis Lowe

Travis Lowe’s new film, Thai One On, isn’t like any fly fishing trip you’ve ever been on before. Unless, that is, taking part in ritual sacrifices, eating giant cockroaches and riding elephants into the seething jungle are part of your normal angling experience.

“I guess the thing I set out to do was to make a film that was completely different than anything else that was out there,” Travis said recently when I asked him about the narrative arc he’d chosen for this story

He wanted something that stood out in a field cluttered with too much ‘fish porn’. And boy, did he succeed.

thai_one_on1

Thai One On follows three anglers from the Montana Fly Company, who set out to catch the mighty Mahseer, a kind of super carp, in the Mae Ngao, or River of Reflection, in northern Thailand. At first they are just thinking how much fun it will be, but pretty soon they find themselves working with local Karen villagers around Chiang Mai, to protect a dwindling species.

The guys from Montana bring to impoverished third world villagers a modern conservation ethic, and the promise of a sports angling economy based on the alien concept of a catch-and-release fishery. In return they get enlightenment – and learn how to put a fatal curse on poachers by cutting the head off a rooster. During the journey they not only fall in love with the Mahseer, and its explosive surface strikes, but also with the Thai people and their rich culture. They also get so desperate to crack the Mahseer, that they throw everything at them – including the aptly named Cherry Bomb, and in one great sequence, the dangly bits from a restaurant table cloth.

thai_one_on3It is a neat story, and not what you expect to see in a typical fly fishing film. It will be interesting to see how it gets received as it tours 150 cities in North America as part of the 2013 F3T Film Festival. Will the crowds embrace a film that has more story and less fish porn? I’m betting they will.

Travis lives in Kelowna, in British Columbia’s bucolic Okanagan Valley. He fishes the gentle Kettle River, where the rainbow trout take dry flies with classic rises and at the end of the day you relax with a glass of Chardonnay from an award winning winery.  But despite that tranquil setting, Travis has an edge to him, honed by his more than two decades work shooting news as a television cameraman. He is the kind of guy who if he hears gunfire is running towards it, hoping for a dramatic shot to light up the evening newscast. And it is that hard background that shines through in Thai One On. How else do you explain a fly fishing film that lingers on Bangkok’s sex scene and features a quicky interview with a group of she-men?

“You can have a fly fishing story and the fly fishing film doesn’t have to focus on the fishing,” he said over the phone, while he was sitting in his edit suite, agonizing over the final cuts to his film, which made its world debut in January, when the F3T Film Festival launched its 2013 tour in Colorado.

“I have taught film . . .  I have an understanding of story-telling . . . and I was able in that film to bounce around in different ways and use different techniques to reveal the story in a way that wasn’t linear,” he said. “The one thing I didn’t focus on was the fishing.”

thai_one_on4 copy

Don’t worry, there are plenty of fly fishing shots in the film. But they come as a big pay-off and by the time you get there you feel like you have just spent a couple weeks traveling with a bunch of interesting guys through a fascinating country. Not to mention surviving the fear and loathing bar crawling scenes in Bangkok.

Travis, like all of us, likes to see footage of fly fishermen casting in beautiful locations, catching big fish. But he knows all of us have a very limited appetite for that kind of “fish porn.”

For most of his professional life he has kept his camerawork separate from his sport. Fly fishing was where he went to escape, and he didn’t want to muck that up by starting to shoot it. He was also worried that maybe he wouldn’t make very good fly fishing films. But as he watched the genre developing, and saw the interest being paid to films in increasingly popular festivals like F3T,  he  became convinced he could do something great.

thai_one_on5

With Thai One On, only the second fly fishing film he’s made, Travis comes damn close. This is a fascinating documentary, that tells a really good story and features some beautiful film work.

Travis himself admits there are flaws. He shot it all in just a few weeks, and he wants to go back to Thailand to get more images. The DVD, when it comes out, will be twice as long, including more fishing shots, and he will spend more time on aspects of the story that he had to pass over because festival films have to come in at around 20 minutes in length.

When the F3T festival comes to your city in 2013, watch for Thai One On. It will introduce you to a dramatic fishery in a beautiful country, and will convince you there is a lot more to Thailand than beaches and Bangkok.

END NOTE: Look for a Q and A with Travis Lowe, also posted on this site. The DVD Trailer for Thai One On is on Vimeo here. For more information on the F3T Film Festival go to: http://flyfilmtour.com/2013-schedule and you can check out Travis Lowe’s website at: www.springcreekfilm.com

An exclusive clip from Thai One On – for A River Never Sleeps