Despite having watched Catfish at the 24th Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF), you will find no review of it here. There is not much to be said about Catfish without spoiling it for those who have not yet seen it – though there is a little. This is not a ‘twist’ movie; the narrative plays out pretty much as you would expect. Instead it is a deftly clever commentary on the nature of identity and how it defines our role in society.
Catfish is about Nev Schulman, a New York based professional photographer in his mid-twenties, who corresponds with eight-year old artist prodigy Abby Pierce through Facebook after she paints one of his photographs and mails it to him. Nev also talks to Abby’s family, both on the telephone and through e-communication, most prominently with her older half-sister Megan.
About mid way into the story Nev decides to visit Abby and her family, unannounced, in Michigan. Everything we see on screen was shot in 2007 by Nev’s brother Ariel and friend Henry who were making a documentary about the situation. Catfish may or may not be a real documentary.
Catfish the title is a metaphor, obviously. Here it represents the external effect of – and need for – conflict. There is a reason we are why we are. Human beings do not coexist in harmony, we coexist in conflict. The result of no external conflict is internal conflict: boredom.
Nev Schulman is a charming, intelligent, attractive man. The camera fetishes him; his often exposed torso, his smile; his function in this story is one of contrast. Nev is successful because… Nev is beautiful because… To be the sum of his parts, Nev has to stand against those who add up to less.
Whether Catfish is a genuine documentary or an elaborate hoax is a conversation for another time. This question becomes surprisingly insignificant when watching the film. What becomes essential, however, is introspection. Ask questions of yourself; the next time you update your status on Facebook, consider not what you are saying but why. This is external conflict to counter internal conflict. We exist, for good or bad, to provoke the lives of others.
Catfish was screened at the 24th Leeds International Film Festival on 14th November. The film is released nationwide in the UK on 17th December.
© 2010 – 2012, Christopher Laverty.