The other 2010 release that is not really ‘about facebook’ is a compelling conundrum that will slot into many people’s top ten lists for the year.
While superlatives should be attached to Catfish for filmmaking style, originality and for the journey it takes the audience on, it presents a problem for the reviewer. The less you know about it - going in - the better. And once you have seen it, you’ll immediately want to discuss this documentary in a whole different light, starting with asking: how exactly was this put together, from start to finish.
So 'Catfish' needs to be seen, and then talked about afterwards.
And here are the bare bone facts. Yaniv 'Nev' Shulman is a 20-something photographer and filmmaker who is drawn into starring in a documentary by his brother Ariel and his filmmaking partner Henry Joost. The jumping off point is a random connection he makes in his New York office; with a young girl who takes some of the photographs he puts online and turns them into impressionistic paintings. Straight-forward and mundane enough you might think, however they become friends on facebook and ‘events’ kick off from there and take you to situations you will not expect.
Immediately coming out of Catfish I had a peculiar feeling that the events were too strange for the filmmakers to have made up, or that the depicted scenes are part of a semi-staged wheeze that is brilliantly concealed in truthful moments. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between, as every documentary is a constructed reality, on some level.
What isn’t disputed is the technique of the film, using straight-to-camera confessionals and visuals from every device going, from iPhones to Satnav to the social media sites, to create a momentum that is thriller-like and utterly gripping.
There is also something deeply disturbing about 'Catfish', something truthful about the way we use sites like facebook to represent ourselves. And there is also humour, and real poignancy. The storytelling, which uses technology in a clever way, also shows great skill in editing and pacing. In its own, very different way 'Catfish' is every bit as essential as the slick Hollywood product 'The Social Network', and every bit as contemporary and plugged in to who we are today and what’s going on.
After a terrific 87 minutes what you are left with will be questions. About the relationship between documentary maker and subject, about exploitation and what it means for a documentary to be set-up, or in some way for information to be withheld. In short: a conundrum. A brilliant one though.
As published in MovieVortex: my catfish review in movie vortex