It took them three years to pull it off, but it had been close to a lifetime in the making.
Kahlil Hudson and Tyler Hughen both came to Pagosa Springs in their teens, young adolescents plopped into a forested wonderland. Hiking. Skiing. Rafting.
And, a sport not always associated with mischievous young men — fly fishing — a sport that would be a bonding force in Hughen and Hudson’s relationship from youth into adulthood and onto the silver screen with their award-winning documentary “Low and Clear.”
“Fly fishing can be a very internal, cerebral activity, which is what separates it from some other forms of fishing and outdoor sports,” Hudson explained. “You need to be very aware of what is happening in the nature that surrounds you — how the wind affects your cast; how the currents in the river will carry your line; the depth, clarity and temperature of the water; when, what and where the fish are eating.
“Fly fishing is intrinsically beautiful, and can be poetic,” Hughen added. “But most fisherman I know never had a choice: It’s either in your blood or it’s not.”
It was Hughen who first introduced Hudson to fly fishing when they were in high school. Hughen had moved to Pagosa Springs from southern California in the early ’90s. Surfing was his main preoccupation but, in Pagosa, surfing was out of the picture.
“I fell for the sport very hard, and started guiding the rivers and creeks around southwest Colorado with J.T. and Xenie, way younger than I had any right to,” Hughen said.
J.T. and Xenie are the main characters in the documentary, and though fly fishing serves as the central concentration of the main characters, the film itself is about the relationship between Xenie and J.T. and how it has evolved over their years apart.
“Low and Clear” is a documentary film about two long-lost friends who haven’t seen each other in years, and who are reunited on a fly-fishing trip together to British Columbia, Canada. The film is about their slow discovery of how much each of them has changed, and how these changes affect the friendship.
“The first summer after my family moved to Pagosa, I met J.T. on my first day of work at the old Backcountry Angler in downtown Pagosa,” recalled Hughen. “He was working behind the counter and simply said, ‘We’re hanging out this summer.’ He’s a larger than life character, and it felt like I’d met the coolest guy in the world. Xenie, though, he was much more elusive.
“Most people don’t know there’s a living legend in their own town,” explained Hughen. In the fly shop, the walls were covered in photos from a “crazy-looking dude,” who was, for Hudson, J.T. and Hughen, a fishing god.
“Those years in Pagosa, banging around in pickup trucks with J.T. and Xenie, is a memory of pure freedom. To see the world as a fifteen-year-old kid through the wild eyes of these two was an unforgettable experience,” Hughen said.
Hughen brought Hudson into the mix. From school, to snowboarding, to fly fishing, Hudson and Hughen spent their high school days in Pagosa. Then, as they left for college, they even spent a year as roommates. Yet, after that, Hughen recalls, they lost touch.
“For whatever reason time passed, and it was a solid 10 years or so that went by without talking,” Hughen said.
Hudson had gone into filmmaking, working as a cinematographer on features and commercials. Hughen worked at Scripps Institute of Oceanography as part of a expedition research team for the past decade. However, when both came back to Pagosa for the holidays, they’d see each other. Hughen, in half jest, suggested to Hudson that they collaborate on a movie together, a movie on fly fishing.
“I think he laughed and said, ‘What would that be?’ About a minute later, he asked, ‘What are J.T. and Xenie up to?’ ‘Exactly,’ I said .”
Both Hughen and Hudson had full-time jobs 1,000 miles apart from each other. Hudson lives in Denver, Hughen in southern California, yet, despite the distance, they pursued this idea.
“I told him (Hudson) a little bit about a recent trip I had gone on with them (Xenie and J.T.), and how different it was, and how I think we were all a bit nostalgic, but also frustrated that things weren’t like they used to be,” said Hughen. “It’s a common part of the human experience to grow up and grow apart, and that became the central theme we always came back to in our early talks about this film. “
“I think the film connects with non-fishing audiences mainly because its themes are universal: The price and reward of living an uncompromising life. The ebb and flow of old friendships. The difficulty of reconciling your youthful dreams with who you’ve become. And it doesn’t hurt to have two complex and fascinating characters,” Hudson said.
The film has been screened at numerous film festivals including the South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the audience award, and the Dallas International Film Festival. “Low and Clear” was also screened as part of the recent International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.
To view the trailer and purchase the DVD, go to lowandclear.com.