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SXSW Film Reviews

By Hollis Chacona, March 16, 2001, Screens

Okie Noodling

D: Bradley Beesley. (Video, 57 min.)

Noodling is the sport (some say art) of catching big ol' catfish with your bare hands. Legal only in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the practice of noodling has taken on cult-like proportions, complete with naysayers, philosophers, and would-be high priests. Okie Noodling is Bradley Beesley's (Hill Stomp Hollar) affectionate, funny, and engaging look at the noodlers in his home state: Jerry "Catfish" Rider, a school custodian whose noodling notoriety garnered him 10 minutes of fame on The David Letterman Show; Red and Dave Baggett, an uncle and nephew team who push the ascetic limits of noodling by using diving equipment; and Lee McFarlin, whose outspoken views on noodling, noodlers, and non-noodlers are punctuated by devilish grins and a contagious reverence for his sport. Beesley constructs a documentary so unassuming and so familiar that despite voiceovers, animation, and other filmmaker's accouterments, the camera disappears and we find ourselves in the murky Oklahoma waters, holding our breath and wriggling our fingers in dark, deep holes, hoping a 45-pounder will bite. We get bit, all right, and boy, it's a beaut.

Okie Noodling won this year's Audience Award for Best Documentary and was a runner-up for the Jury Award for Best Documentary.

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