The Sooner filmmaker who put hand noodling for monstrous catfish on the cinema map now points his camera at a much more rarefied and elegant form of fishing in a splendid new short film titled “Currents of Belize.” Bradley Beesley, the Austin-based, independent director with deep Oklahoma roots, is a guy with a restless eye and a taste for decidedly off-the-beaten-path subcultures.
With a resume that ranges from the 2001 cult fave “Okie Noodling,” to the rough-and-tumble world of female roller derby in “RollerGirls,” to the hardscrabble doings of cowgirls behind bars in “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo,” to the Boswell-like chronicling of Oklahoma City’s famed indie rockers The Flaming Lips in films such as “Fearless Freaks,” “U.F.O’s at the Zoo” and “Christmas on Mars,” Beesley has proven himself to be a filmmaker for all seasons.
In “Currents of Belize,” a half-hour documentary look at the sun-dappled Caribbean fly-fishing paradise and the increasing strains of tourism and development that the country struggles with, Beesley strikes a deftly balanced tone of concerned environmentalism and elegiac celebration.
Belize, a country often referred to as “Mother Nature’s best kept secret,” is experiencing an economic boom as tourists, especially globe-trotting saltwater fly anglers, flock to its sandy beaches and azure waters and as developers with foreign money buy up prime seaside property for construction of condos, resorts, golf courses and restaurants.
Two key figures in this story – the portly, grandfatherly Lincoln Westby and the athletic, darkly handsome Abbie Marin, both native Belizians and professional fly- fishing guides – stand astride the country’s difficult conflict between development and conservation.
Belize, with the second-largest barrier reef in the world, is a prime territory for the “big three” of light-tackle saltwater gamefish – bonefish, tarpon and permit. Of those, permit, as flat as dinner platters and silver as rays from the noonday sun, are among the most prized and elusive of ocean prey. It is said among serious fly fishers that a man can pursue permit around the globe for a lifetime and be lucky to catch one or two.
Abbie Marin’s sun-leathered father credibly claims to have caught more than a thousand. And, indeed, in the film Abbie casts gracefully and manages to land a prime permit as Beesley’s camera looks on. So both Marin and Westby certainly know how to catch fish and earn lucrative livings from helping tourists pursue them. They know the Central American country’s mangroves and saltwater flats intimately, and they know what a fragile ecosystem their livelihoods depend upon.
So, as Beesley’s cameras roll, each man speaks out on the wisdom of catch-and-release fishing. And each evolves as an eloquent advocate for careful, thoughtful development balanced with the pressing need to keep the pristine ocean environment of Belize healthy and unsullied by blind commercialism.
Al Perkinson, an executive for Costa sunglasses, the film’s producer, notes that Belize is “home to the best flats fishing on the planet.”
“You see the paradox being created there,” he said, “in that the more people come there to fish, the higher the chance the area has of depleting its natural resources and eliminating the livelihood for generations of fishermen.”
Beesley, who previously co-directed an environmental documentary titled “The Creek Runs Red,” which examines the toxic legacy of Picher, Oklahoma’s, lead mining industry, seems to uniquely adept with this sort of material. Neither too strident in his political thrust nor too blithe in his celebration of the land’s dazzling beauty, his “Currents of Belize” is a passionate yet reasoned plea for a thoughtful balance of development and preservation.
To view the documentary and get more information on conservation efforts in Belize, log on to www.currentsofbelize.com.
– Dennis King