24 May 2011

Documentary: Catfish

Catfish (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1584016/

Nev is a photographer. After one of his photos was published an 8 year old girl, Abby, used his photo as the basis of a painting, then contacted Nev to show him. Nev really liked the painting, and a through-Facebook pen-pal relationship developed with Abby showing him more of her paintings, and Nev sending her photos from time-to-time for her to paint.  Nev got to talk with Abby's mother Angela on occasion over the phone, then got to talk with Abby's older sister Megan.  More and more of Abby's family and family friends 'met' Nev over Facebook and friended him too - all appreciative of how nice he was to encourage Abby's painting.  Nev and Megan's phone/text/Facebook relationship blossoms.
This whole time Nev's brother Rel, and their friend/roommate Henry, have started documenting Nev's relationship with Abby and her family as it unfolds.

This arrived from Netflix today and I couldn't even recall why I put this film on my Netflix queue.  I think I may have heard someone in a podcast mention it in passing or something, but they didn't go into detail about the film.  Usually a flyby comment doesn't grab my attention, but I can't think of any other way I would have heard about this film and not remembered anything about it.
I don't recall ever watching a trailer for it either, which is how I usually target films for the Netflix queue. But through the wonders of the internets you can:

Yes, this is a real documentary. It is not a thinly scripted mockumentary. The film is edited together, paring 9 months of footage down into a coherent linear narrative.  Nothing was staged or re-shot. Watch the bonus after-film interview for a little more insight into that.

This documentary works because it is a linear narrative that starts soon after Nev begins corresponding with Abby and carries us, the viewers, through Nev's developing relationship with Abby and her family, ultimately taking us along with Nel, Rel and Henry as they drive up and meet the family. This is a trip that's worth taking.

I like how the film uses Google Earth to tie parts of the narrative together. The use of Google Earth, GPS in the car, cell phones, Facebook, Google - all that shows how embedded into normal daily routines technology has become, and also hints at the impacts of technology on social interactions.  Yes it has handheld cam work going on, but the shaking is usually kept to a minimum. I think I saw one of the guys carrying a tripod with 'em too, which means they probably used 'em when convenient.  The sound isn't too bad considering the guerrilla filming style, and I think I saw a separate sound recorder in a couple of the scenes, which would explain why.  Despite it's low budget origins it's a good watch on the small screen.

I enjoyed this film and I recommend it for anyone, especially social networking types. And if you're reading this review or have Liked me on Facebook, you probably fall in that category. But if you avoid it due to being  documentary-averse I understand, but you're missing out.

I'm glad I chucked this in the ol' Netflix queue and completely forgot what it was about, except for the sleeve description, before watching it. That made the viewing experience that much more enjoyable.  If you choose to watch the film, I want that open, unencumbered and unprejudiced experience for you too. I recommend not reading up on any reviews that spoil the film. That's why I'm making sure not to spoil it.

If you happen to watch on DVD/BluRay I recommend also watching the after-film interview on the disc. After watching the film, of course. You get to hear Nev, Rel and Henry talk about the events after a couple years having distance from the filming and editing process and having had time to digest the experience and its impact on their lives.

Bonus - usually the wife groans any time I get a documentary to watch from Netflix, so of course she groaned when this one arrived too. She happened to be sitting there when I started watching the film and it quickly sucked her in to the story. She stayed for the whole thing and enjoyed watching the film too.

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