Director: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
Starring: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Nev Schulman
WARNING: I don't mention explicit plot moments, however, my review may reveal more than one may like to know about the movie.
An old work colleague passed away last year, and a friend asked me and others who knew her to change our facebook profile picture to the last one she had in her memory. It's a small action, but an affectionate one and many of us obliged. A few days into this I received a facebook message from an American who lets just say, wanted to "get to know me better". It doesn't help that my first name is Leslie despite the masculine spelling and my middle name being Byron. A brief e-mail exchange soon had the horny youngster was back on his way. Possibly off to look for more "sexi gals" or whatever.
Now if my mindset was a more dubious one, I could have easily seen how deep the rabbit hole could have been. I mean, my privacy status on FB is high so I could have easily toyed with this guy by merely sending messages pretending to be a girl.
This leads me to the main aspect of Catfish, a film in which a privileged New York photographer (Nev) develops a correspondence with an 8 year old girl (Abby) on facebook. She likes one of his photos and asks if she can paint it. As odd as this sounds right now, it's ok because Nev is also contacted by Abby's mum Angela. Nev accepts and pretty soon he begins a pleasant and harmless internet relationship which evolves around their respected artforms. Nev is then introduced over facebook to Abby's older sister Megan and a more intimate relationship develops. However, they have yet to meet...
Catfish was the most talked about documentary at Sundance and it's misleading trailer hints that the films final 40 minutes are something much more sinister. The outcome however, is a much more heartfelt affair. The deceptive marketing actually works towards Catfish's advantage, as does all the "is it real" talk that some more disapproving critics have been landing at it. While I can accept certain moments have a certain "unauthentic" feel, and the frightening amount of tech that should reveal the truth much quicker than it takes, like my aforementioned story in the first paragraph it becomes clear that the dream over comes the reality. Like joining a cult, we believe we're far too intelligent to fall for anything like that and forget that we are actually more susceptible. I do wonder how many people will be quick to debunk this but not look at their favorite reality shows with the same amount of skepticism.
For me Catfish is all about the story itself and whether or not the film is "true" it manages to encompass the fears and worries that social media has brought, and tells us in an disturbing, funny and heart felt manner. The Social Network tells us that one of the most powerful tools to impact our social landscape since the telephone was conceived by someone deeply unsociable. Catfish expands on this showing us in it's low-fi approach how slippery our "second personalities" have now become. We can connect to people far easier than ever and these personas not only allow to do and say things we'd never dream of in reality but we do so with an alarming disconnect. The final scenes show us two people who would probably never speak to each other in other circumstances coming together and remind us of how important and powerful face to face talking can be.
Note: The screening I went had a Q&A session with Henry Joost. I asked the question on if he values human connections even more. He responded with "Definitely, this is what the film is all about". It's also important to know that while many who have been using the internet are aware of many elements within Catfish. The film clearly notes with it's constant zippy CGI imagery that now more people use the internet and with the tech growing rapidly and those still in the dark are not that likely to look as smugly as our net savvy counterparts. Think of it like all those mothers who are still sending people chain mail.