An online romance lures a photographer and his filmmaker brother into a web of cyber intrigue and discovery.
We all know how easy to get drawn into the world of Facebook. Friend requests can lead to all sorts of interesting connections that you might not make in your day to day life. But they can also draw you into relationships that you might not necessarily want, especially if those friends aren’t exactly who they claim to be. Catfish is a home grown documentary about a young New Yorker who falls for a woman from Ishpeming, Michigan and her rather sexy profile pic.
Yaniv or ‘Nev’ Schulman takes photographs of dancers for a living while shooting films in his spare time with a bunch of friends including his brother Ariel and Henry Joost. When one of his photographs appears in the newspaper it inspires a reader to paint a version of it on canvas and send it to him. Impressed by the work, he tracks down the artist who turns out to be an 8 year-old girl called Abbey Pierce whose mother Angela begins a Facebook correspondence with Nev on her behalf. Soon the whole family is in on the act including Angela’s 19-year old daughter Megan who turns up the heat with a provocative online photo gallery and saucy messages.
After 9 months of titillating texts, Nev starts to believe that he might have just found the “perfect girl” but when he discovers that some songs that Megan claims to have written and sung herself are actually downloaded from the internet, he decides to drive to Michigan and find out about this person once and for all.
Nev and his buddies belong to a generation who document their lives and develop content in order to become popular in the online community. They shoot their every move because they believe that a) they’re interesting and b) that if they suddenly die, one of their heroes like Werner Hertzog, the Mayseles Brothers or Ross McElwee might find the footage and use it to great artistic effect. In this instance, it paid off.
Culled from over 200 hours of footage, the doco was a hit at Sundance and propelled the filmmakers on to jobs co-directing Paranormal Activity 3 which set the record for a midnight opening for a horror film. Catfish also served as the perfect counterpoint to that monster hit The Social Network by revealing the flip side of Facebook – sure it can connect people but it can also play right into people’s egos and fantasies. The title refers to something that Angela’s partner Vince says towards the end of the film – an anecdote about how catfish were put in amongst the live cod exported from North America to Asia to stir them up and keep them fresh and feisty. He says we need people with this same quality to keep us on our toes too. And it’s hard to argue with that.
But whether you see them as catfish or spiders who trap people in the world wide web, they’re definitely interesting subjects. As is Nev himself; a self assured, hirsute young man who certainly isn’t camera shy. Perhaps it’s because of this bravado that some folk, including documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, reckon the film is a fake. Personally I don’t doubt that people can be this naïve but check it out yourself and see what you think. It might also make you want to spend a bit more real time with real friends in real life.Get CAT