This fall, AMFF will recognize the extraordinary contribution to the sport of fly fishing made by the film adaptation of Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It. Producer Patrick Markey will accept the award at the Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City as several cast and crew reunite to tell stories from this landmark film, shot thirty years ago but fondly remembered to this day.
In 1992, Robert Redford brought Maclean’s beautifully crafted tale of family and fly fishing to the big screen via screenwriter Richard Friedenberg’s remarkable adaptation of Maclean’s beloved novella. Filmed on Montana’s Gallatin River, a generation of filmgoers became captivated by the stunning Oscar-winning cinematography of Philippe Rousselot. The fly-fishing industry is reputed to have grown 60 percent in both 1992 and 1993 as a direct result of the film.
Renowned Montana author and previous Heritage Award honoree Tom McGuane originally introduced Redford to Maclean’s seminal work while visiting McGuane at his home east of Livingston. Redford returned to the area to film, with the town serving as Missoula in the early twentieth century and the Gallatin standing in for the Blackfoot.
Redford and Markey took the fly-fishing discipline in the film very seriously, as many fans find Maclean’s book to be the sacred text of western fly fishing. Legendary anglers—including KC Walsh of Simms, John Bailey of Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop, and Jerry Siem of Sage Rods—advised Redford and Markey. Colorado fishing guide John Dietsch coordinated the technical team and, along with angling expert Jason Borger, doubled for the leads in several of the fly-fishing sequences. Bozeman’s fisheries biologist and stream builder Joe Urbani safely handled all of the fish seen on camera. Longtime colleagues of Redford and Markey, award-winning documentary producer Dennis Aig and outdoor cinematographer Paul Ryan, were also an invaluable part of the team.
The movie’s success inspired multiple generations of new fly fishers around the world who would go on to become advocates for cold, clean rivers and healthy fish habitats. The film was definitely an economic and environmental boon, contributing millions to the industry while focusing attention on the restoration of Maclean’s home water, the Big Blackfoot River, which is once again a pristine fishing destination.
A River Runs Through It introduced a wide range of new readers to the works of Norman Maclean and captured the essence of fly fishing in such a way that it is simply referred to as “the movie” in angling circles, although it only contains eleven minutes of fishing footage. Arguably, it also gave us one of the great final lines in film history, humbly borrowed from Maclean: “Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
“We’re very excited to honor the film adaptation of A River Runs Through It with this year’s Heritage Award” remarks AMFF Board President Fred Polhemus. “In the thirty years since its big-screen debut, it’s become just as integral a part of the fly-fishing canon as Normal Maclean’s novella. Not only did the film help introduce the sport to a new generation of fly fishers, but the timelessly evocative visuals continue to shape the way fly-fishing is perceived by anglers and non-anglers alike to this day.”