This post was first published by Suite101. It contains spoilers.
In 2007, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost began filming a strange relationship that was developing between Ariel’s brother Yaniv (a photographer) and a family in Michigan. The documentary Catfish (released in December 2010) is the result – a film that, due to the fantastic events it captured, has sparked some debate about its validity. However, the very ordinariness of the people in the film – and their very real and recognisable faults – in the end render Catfish an extremely honest documentary. What is really astounding about Catfish is the way it highlights the power of social networking sites such as Facebook to accommodate our human frailties and turn them into something much larger than ourselves.
In 2007 Nev Schulman’s life became entwined with that of an eight year old girl named Abby, after she sent him a painting she had done of one of his photographs. Through Abby, Nev was introduced to the rest of the family via phone and Facebook, and after a while he developed an online relationship with Abby’s half-sister, Megan. Gradually Nev – and Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, who were filming events as they unfolded – became suspicious of the situation, discovering Megan had lied on numerous occasions. Determined to uncover the truth about Megan and her family they travelled to Michigan, where they discovered that Megan did not live where she had claimed to live, and met a very different family from the one they had been expecting.
Catfish explores the philosophical ramifications of social networking. It is a touching, very human film about a very real woman who creates – through Facebook – a fantasy world. It is easy to relate to this woman –to her regret and sadness, her disillusionment with reality and her desire to create a new world for herself. Catfish uncovers the power social networking sites like Facebook have to make these dreams almost too real. But in the end, this is a documentary about regret, love, and ordinary people, and the desire we all have to escape into realities other than our own.
Catfish is rated PG for some sexual references. It runs for 87 minutes.