This intriguing documentary concerns a young New York photographer who looks like Clint Dempsey and the online relationship he develops with a mysterious family on the other side of America. One sibling, a talented 8-year old girl, triggers the correspondence by sending him a painted version of one of his photographs; another, her 20-something dancer half-sister, grabs his interest in a less platonic sense.
The co-directors are the protagonist’s brother and friend and are also present in the film as characters. On the production team is Andrew Jarecki, whose Capturing the Friedmans is possibly the best documentary I have seen and resembles this in the way that we follow the filmmakers’ own following of the story to deeper, darker and more disturbing places as the narrative develops.
Neat touches which fit with the subject matter are present and correct from the outset – the titles ‘loading’ and locations demonstrated via google maps. Whilst this may sound gimmicky, what’s fascinating – and genuinely new (to me at least) – is the way in which the film constructs its narrative in the way that narratives truly are constructed on the internet, using friend additions and facebook chats to develop the plot whilst flicking through photos to give us an idea of character. In this sense Catfish really is ‘about Facebook’ in a way that David Fincher’s The Social Network never was – or at least wasn’t interested in being.
It also works beautifully as a drama in its own right. How ‘real’ it is (which has been debated) seems to me irrelevent. As the brothers dig away at their story manfully, what we end up with is both a gripping mystery caper and a serious exposé of internet’s enormous potential to facilitate fantasy, in a way that implicates others. A clever and unsettling film that feels truly of its time.
Further thoughts on Catfish here