The remote, northern land of Alaska is deemed by many to be inhospitable or even dangerous to those unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of daily life on the Last Frontier. Breaking the mould and showing a warmer side of the territory is Gareth Leah’s documentary The Story of a Trout. Despite the name, Leah’s short film is not a wildlife doc in the traditional sense, but rather a study of the life, death, and legacy of local hero, Curt Muse, affectionately known as Curt Trout.
Leah’s film collates tales of Trout’s adventures, recounted by friends and family, following his life’s journey from Average Joe fisherman to renowned teacher, guide, and friend of all who ventured into the wilderness in pursuit of a fisherman’s paradise. The film details his upsetting demise as his health deteriorates, but explains how he trained his successors to continue the fishing traditions and keep the ecosystem alive and well for generations to come.
The Story of a Trout exemplifies the true purpose of a documentary; to educate about and introduce viewers to people and places that would otherwise remain a mystery. The story of an Alaskan fisherman would be a hard sell to a lot of people, but by the time the credits roll, this short has succeeded in encapsulating the emotions surrounding Trout’s life and death. It achieves this whilst briefly shining a spotlight on how certain parts of the world still remain beautifully raw and the inhabitants unbothered by the stresses of modern living that, ultimately, are not worth worrying about. Of course, this film is not a tourism ad, but Leah may convince even the most stubborn of city-slickers to book a retreat to the Curt Trout’s home.
Set in the magnificently striking Cooper Landing, Leah and cinematographer, Kai Czarnowski, deliver incredible scenic views of the rural location, finding a welcome balance between these shots and archive footage of the titular Trout from days gone by. Particularly impressive is the use of footage in different weather, the impending cold coinciding with the news of Trout’s death in a way that would perhaps seem cliché if featured in another genre besides documentary. With insightful interviews from those closest to Trout, a crystal-clear picture of his life is painted for the audience. If anything, this film would have benefitted from being slightly longer, allowing a bigger canvas for Leah to paint upon.
The Story of a Trout is an excellently crafted documentary about a man who many would not have known existed, but perhaps will learn a lot of lessons from now that they do. Lessons not just about fishing, but also about life; how to be happy with what you have and enjoy it until the very end. Trout’s story makes you wonder how many other hidden figures are out there, waiting to be plucked from unknown waters.
'The Story of a Trout' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2022.