Film, Documentaries
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)
You don’t have to like something to find it fascinating. Which is good, because a lot of things rankle about this much-hyped DIY documentary. Presented as a video diary, it’s a lo-fi, digital affair about Yaniv Schulman (known as Nev), a New York hipster photographer in his mid-twenties who strikes up an unlikely friendship by phone, email and Facebook with a middle-aged, rural Michigan woman, Angela, her eight-year-old daughter Abby and her older, teenage daughter Megan. It’s jaw-to-the-floor stuff and 87 minutes of wide-eyed viewing – but that’s not to say you won’t want to strangle the filmmakers by the end.

The relationship begins when little Abby sends Nev a painting of one of his photos: a naive but fairly skilled (for an eight year old) copy of a portrait of a dancer that was published in the New York Times. Intrigued, Nev sends Abby and her mum, Angela, more photos and she sends more paintings. It’s at this stage that Nev’s brother and pal switch on the camera, and we meet Nev as he receives a new batch of artworks and can detect his brother salivating over the prospect of telling the story of these distant weirdos for the benefit of a film. His mercenary approach is barely hidden, although the brothers try to play it straight. ‘I’m a little more involved than I’d like to be,’ says Nev at one point. ‘It’s called making a movie,’ says his brother, Ariel, but even this chat feels like it might have an ulterior motive. It’s that kind
of film.

It would be wrong to reveal more about the evolution of Nev’s friendships with Angela, Abby and Megan, but odd things unfold, and the film plays out like a suspense thriller with Nev and his crew finally making a trip from New York to Michigan to confront his virtual friends. All the time Ariel and friend Henry Joost, credited as co-directors, are filming Yaniv and egging him on. Intimate, one-to-one moments – a phone call, a series of flirty texts, the sending and receiving of messages on Facebook – are shared with us by the filmmakers without the other party knowing. That itself should make us wary about the filmmakers’ motives and methods, which are scarcely different from a tabloid that secretly films someone only to leap on them at the last minute with open arms so they can ‘share’ their side of the story.

Some have accused Joost and the Schulman brothers of spinning a yarn. Personally, I think that reduces the very real debates the film raises to do with filmmaking ethics, the honesty of storytelling, the condescension with which the the urbane view the provincial and the growing divide between the technologically sophisticated and technologically foolish. I don’t buy, though, that this is a groundbreaking portrait of new means of communication spinning out of control. The subject is less interesting than the telling and, again without giving too much away, let’s just say the world is full of the pained and lonely, and always has been: it doesn’t take the likes of Schulman and Joost to remind us of that while brandishing the falsest of sympathetic smiles.

It’s been a busy year for documentaries which prompt viewers to cry foul. First there was Banksy and his tale of street-art chancer Thierry Guetta and then there was Casey Affleck and his portrait of his brother-in-law, Joaquin Phoenix. The climate is one of suspicion. But don’t write this off as a fake. It’s more interesting and less honourable than that. If you begin with the premise that all films, docs and dramas, are constructs of one sort or another and it’s the how and why that’s important, you’ll have fun pulling this apart. Just don’t expect the filmmakers to join you at that level.


Release details

Release date:
Friday December 17 2010
94 mins

Cast and crew

Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:1
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I have had a guilty pleasure for the series Catfish for ages. It's my go-to "need something mundane to watch while I eat my dinner" but I'd not seen the original documentary. It's really quite a fascinating piece about a normal guy, who meets a normal girl online. Except she isn't a normal girl, she's a much older woman in a fairly unique (and very sad) situation. There is a great sense of foreboding which really drives the film throughout, but actually by the end you just feel sorry for everyone involved and have great sympathy with almost all of the people on-screen. Certainly worth a watch. 

As soon as I see a critic/reviewer kicking the hell out of a pretty damn decent show, the first thing I'm going to do is go to Amazon, Netflix, etc and buy the first and the rest till I get to the present show. The main problem with critics is if it doesn't have sex, gore, arms and legs chopped off, it isn't worth a damn. This show hits on a really bad problem. Internet, pictures of some blonde bimbo, and wham you're in touch with a decent guy or gal who have been looking for the right person. Actually the bimbo looks like something out of a gag movie. But he/she doesn't know it until Nev and Max sort out the fakes. These guys are good in the fact that they care about the one who gets hurt. If I could give the show a 100 rating, I would go for 200.

I thnk the film was staged otherwise where did she get the money to do all the networking if she wasn't selling her paintings before hand. I think they paid her to do the movie.

it was awful! My daughter of 13 and i watched it and found Nev to be rather sad falling for a person or profile that he had never met just text and talked to by a mobile and facebook-it was him we kept cringing about during this program not Angela! ewwww!

I found 'Catfish' a slight but moving and profound film. It shows the distancing that the internet and facebook can inject into a society dominated now by electronic comms. I would advise not googling it or looking at reviews but simply definitely just rent it or see it.

I found 'Catfish' a slight but moving and profound film. It shows the distancing that the internet and facebook can inject into a society dominated now by electronic comms. I would advise not googling it or looking at reviews but simply definitely just rent it or see it.

I can understand viewers being suspicious of this film, certainly if they were drawn in by the cinema advert which suggests the denouement might be a horror show of some kind. In fact, this is quite a gentle film made by and about some not unpleasant people. However more questions than the filmmakers put could be asked of them all. The conclusion doesn’t entirely resolve the mystery. It seems likely that the documentary only began being made quite some time after Nev, the central figure, began to develop an online romance. The authenticity of the girl and her family with whom Nev’s been corresponding and speaking is called into question and he is encouraged by his brother to fly across the States to meet the girl and her family. These later parts all look quite genuine however the opening scenes - maybe much of the first half hour - look to me as though they've been staged some time after the events depicted occurred.

I think its one of the years best..dont agree that they were insincere abut the emotions of meeting angela. I felt they were genuinely touched by her and her family