Catfish is an intriguing and gripping documentary.
The story starts out innocently, New York photographer Yaniv Shulman gets approached on the net by a child prodigy artist, Abby, asking for his permission to paint one of his photos.
Soon Yaniv is talking to her whole family and starts to develop feelings for Megan, her sister. His filmmaker brother Rel and their friend Henry decide to film Yaniv as his relationship with the ‘Facebook family’ evolves and becomes more and more real.
After eight months of emailing, phone conversations and instant messaging, the three friends decide to take a road trip and visit Abby, Megan and their family – and that’s when the story takes a surprising and very dark twist…
Catfish is an amazing, shocking and very unique film about real people – most people who watch the movie will probably want to re-set their privacy settings on their social media pages afterwards.
Catfish is in cinemas 17th of December.
MTV talked to Yaniv about the movie, his online friendships and what’s next for him and his filmmaker friends.
Q: Why did you call the movie ‘Catfish’?
A: Catfish refers to people who keep you guessing, on your toes, people you can count on to do something adventurous. And I think it’s a good thing to have those people in your life.
Q: Why did Rel and Henry start filming you?
A: I certainly never thought it’s going to lead anywhere. I was just pursuing my relationship with this family. At the time I was just looking for the next stage in my life, considering moving somewhere or changing my career, doing something new. For me this was just an interesting family that I was occupying my time with, and my brother just noticed that I was pretty involved with this family and with the young girl that has taken a liking to my pictures.
She was inspired by them and I was inspired by her. I don’t think I expected this to become anything either, it was just a collection of short clips that my brother thought would be interesting to take a look maybe on my 30th birthday, create a montage of me with these strange relationships.
There were so many conversations we didn’t film, most of my communication with them was at night in private. Its not like every time I talked to them or wrote an email my brother was filming it.
I never ever really considered to tell the family, I didn’t feel it was worth discussing this stuff.
Q: At one point the story turns quite sinister – while filming what did you think, how will this story end?
A: We definitely considered we might find a basement filled with Ukranian hackers or a giant overweight bald man who was dressed as a lady or something like that. Or we would be kidnapped and no one will ever hear from us again. We were actually quite relieved in many ways to find what we did find.
Q: How do you feel about the family now?
A: Its all still pretty strange to me. Its still hard to get past what happened and start a new relationship with them. There has been communication and we obviously moved on from two years ago but I still don’t know whether I discovered how I feel about it.
Q: Do you think this kind of story happens a lot in the world of social media?
A: I know that it is not only often but as intense or more so than my case because I receive so many emails and messages - people saying thank you for telling this story, same thing or similar happened to me and I was too embarrassed to talk about it, or it happened to my sister who’s been dating this guy online and he is not who he says he is.
Q: How is your online life now? Do you go on online dates?
A: I never actually used an online dating website, this was just sort of an accident, it started as a friendship. Now of course I have many more Facebook and Twitter friends – I find I still very enjoy connecting with people on the Internet.
Q: Do you think people are careless about the information they put online?
A: People just need to be more conscious of what they put up about themselves. If you want to be private about something, you cannot put it on the internet, that’s the least private place in the world. Don’t get upset when a picture of you turns up somewhere you may not want it, because if you put it on the internet you basically giving it to a global community. I think people should be more aware of their privacy.
And for all those times that you spend looking to connect with friends on the internet, just try doing that with someone in your life. Spend more time in the real world with one or two good friends that with 1500 internet friends.
Q: Catfish caused quite a controversy and lot of people accused you of creating a mockumentary – a fake documentary.
A: I think it’s a particularly interesting moment in time in film history because I think there is a trend moving away from the sensational, overly scripted Hollywood stories, that don’t have really much relevance to our lives. People are more interested in seeing smaller films that are about real life issues.
Obviously documentaries are as real life as you can get but there has been this movement to sort of mixing real life and fiction. I feel there needs to be a new genre ‘faction film’ - and you know some of it is real and some of it is not.
Q: How did you get the film released?
A: The production budget for the movie was probably like 2000 USD, we didn’t spend much money on it. Then we submitted it to the Sundance Film festival cause we thought that would be incredible if we could get in there.
We were smart enough to know that we needed a lot of help so we partnered up with two producers – the guys who made ‘Capturing The Freedmans’, and they were crucial in finishing the film, setting us up with the right sales and PR people.
We knew nothing about the real business of releasing a film or having a film in a festival. Its been such a wild ride, everyday I still can’t believe it’s just keeps getting better and better.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m going to continue photographing, that’s really my passion. I m also looking forward to working with my brother and Henry again, in a short documentary television show based on Catfish - dealing with online dating, hooking people up who only met through the Internet.
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