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A New York photographer begins a long distance realtionship, by phone and over the internet, with the daughter of a family in rural Michigan and eventually travels there for an impromptu visit to the family house.

The film's strength is in its editing, integrating new online media in a way that many films have tried, but failed, to do. "...one of the year's most intriguing pictures." (Philip French, The Observer). "Unsettling and deeply facinating" (Tim Robbey, Daily Telegraph)


This film is an intriguing modern tale of communication, intimacy, self-knowledge and the web.

The star is a handsome, good-natured guy, Nev Schulman, a New York-based photographer and documentarist, specialising in filming dance theatre. In late 2008, he was sharing office space with the film makers, his brother Ariel and Henry Joost, who were on the lookout for new projects. A startling package addressed to Nev one day appears to have inspired Ariel and Henry to pick up their digital cameras and start filming.

The package contained a painted copy of a photo of dancers Nev had published in a New York paper. With it was a note: the painting was by an eight-year-old girl called Abby, who lived in Michigan. Charmed, Nev wrote back to thank her; a Facebook correspondence began. But just when we might worry about this being inappropriate, these worries are neutralised – possibly – by Abby's mum getting in touch, and then Abby's twentysomething sister Megan, via Facebook. Nev is soon incessantly in contact with them by phone, instant-messaging and Facebook. But when he decides to journey out to Michigan with Henry and Ariel for a visit, the story lurches in a strange, scary new direction.

Communication technology assists and obstructs the movies in different ways. Catfish is full of design touches from the web: Google Maps and Google Earth show the leading figures' respective locations in New York and Michigan. We zoom down on to the streets and see what things look like with Google Street View. The internet makes Abby and her family vividly and instantly real even though they're hundreds of miles away; but an elaborate, visually detailed reality easily conjured up via the web can be treacherous.

Film Friday,
29 Apr 2012, 10:51