I have made some close friends online, people I consider very good friends in fact. All of these people I have, eventually, met in person at some point and that is the trick. How many of the people you have as “online friends” do you ever actually meet?
I digress, but not too far from the point; Catfish is the point. Catfish is a new film by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and I might be the first to really get at the nature of internet relationships. It is a film that you think is about one thing, then another and then you realize what it is really about. Honestly I am not sure I would have gone to see it had I known more about it and that would have been my loss. I am at pains to not divulge anything about the movie here (critics have been more ham-fisted but then, about half of them didn’t seem to GET the film even if they liked it).
Catfish is a documentary but the sort of personal documentary that we might now associate with “reality” television. It does a much those monstrosities never do. It is humane, sensitive and actually real. The ultimate aim of the film is to inform and to make the think, not play gotcha and make the audience feel superior to the film’s subjects. It is a film with empathy. I am not going to say anything else and you should not read anything more about this movie before you go to see it. But GO to see it.
Great documentaries are rare these days. They often are extended, ego-driven opinion pieces that conveniently ignore uncomfortable information (can you say “Michael Moore”). They tend to be grandiose in scale but overly simplistically in dealing with the broad issues they approach. The best documentaries deal with broad issues by focusing in on small ones. They get at the macro by looking at the micro. Films like My Brother’s Keeper and Grizzly Man do this and both are great films. Catfish is different but it is in the same class. It looks more low-budget and that seems to confuse some critics and viewers but the camera work is not at issue (and considering how it is shot the camera work is quite good). Please note, me saying you are “as good” as either of these documentaries is about as high praise as I can give.
Just go see it and at the point where you start to roll your eyes in the movie, trust me, it turns into something more. You should be thinking about your life and your relationships the entire time you are in the theater. I saw it with my 13 year old son and I hope he took a lesson or two from the film. There are several valuable ones there about judging people, about the internet and more.