Catfish (2010, dir. Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman)
Its strangely appropriate that at the same The Social Network is playing in theaters, this documentary about what Facebook hath wrought is making the rounds as well. It can be looked at a sequel in some ways: The Social Network are the origins and this is the results of its existence. Since the film premiered at Sundance earlier this year it has garnered mixed reviews. Some critics have seen it as a perfect slice of life in a society where identity has become malleable, while others question the very reality of the documentary, charging it as a meta piece that forces the audience to question if they are being fooled. Catfish was preceded by a mountain of hype and I approached the film with a tempered mind, thinking I would encounter something not quite as good as the trailer claimed.
Nev Schulman is a professional photographer who struck up a relationship with a young girl in Michigan who saw his work in a newspaper and made an oil paint reproduction of it. Through Facebook they converse, he meets her mother, and eventually her 19 year old sister, Megan. Nev and Megan hit it off and find themselves chatting online or over the phone frequently. As time goes on, Nev and his friends, who are documenting the experience, begin to question why Nev has never been able to talk to Abby. This causes a domino effect of other lies being revealed, and leads to the group driving to Michigan to surprise the family and learn the truth.
Whether the film is real or not, it is still an intriguing examination into what the anonymity of the Internet allows. I think the filmmakers do a good job in not passing judgment on anyone who is lying in the film, because they understand that all of us have exaggerated an aspect of ourselves in those moments of conversation where we feel that we can get away with it. The deceit in the film is not one of spite or cruelty, rather its someone seeking to create an universe to escape into. Being an artist, particularly in the small town the family lives in has to be a difficult and alienating situation. So for one of them, populating a Facebook microcosm with characters of your own invention seems like a freeing opportunity.