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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Catfish

Suit claims 'Catfish' isn't a doc -- and that filmmakers should pay up

December 3, 2010 |  4:32 pm

CatfishFrom the moment "Catfish" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival nearly a year ago, critics have questioned just how much of the movie -- presented as a documentary -- is authentic or unstaged. Now a lawsuit alleges that the film is not a documentary and that the filmmakers are liable for damages.

"Catfish" is centered on 26-year-old Nev Schulman, a New York City-based photographer who enters a romantic online relationship with a young, beautiful woman in Michigan. (Spoilers to follow.) His brother, Ariel, and his friend Henry Joost -- both filmmakers -- are intrigued by the story and begin filming Nev's journey. As the romance intensifies, the boys decide they'd like to take a trip to visit Nev's girlfriend.  They discover that Nev has for months been communicating with a middle-aged woman named Angela Wesselman-Pierce, and not a sexy model half her age.

Nev first learns that his online girlfriend may not be who she seems in one scene where she sends him a song she says she is singing called "All Downhill From Here." A quick YouTube search and Nev discovers that it's not his girlfriend who is singing in the MP3, but rather songwriter Amy Kuney.

On Friday, Threshold Media -- which owns Kuney's label, Spin Move Records -- filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against the film's distributors, Universal and Relativity Media, and the producers and directors of the film. Threshold alleges that Kuney's song is played for 18 seconds in the movie, Nev sings along to it for a few more seconds, and the song's title is displayed on iTunes for less than a minute. At Sundance screenings, according to the lawsuit, the song also played over the film's closing credits.

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A 'Catfish' subject steps out of the shadows

October 1, 2010 | 12:21 pm

Catfish EXCLUSIVE: For more than eight months, Angela Wesselman-Pierce, the woman who holds the key to the mystery at the center of docu-thriller “Catfish,” has remained silent. Ever since the movie became a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, she’s avoided all requests for interviews and hasn’t even been seen by many of the locals who live in her small Michigan town.

That will change next week, when Wesselman-Pierce breaks her silence to appear on the ABC newsmagazine show "20/20."

A publicist for the show confirmed that she has been interviewed for a segment about the film that is slated to air next Friday.

"Catfish" follows young New York City photographer Nev Schulman as he enters into a complex online relationship. While Schulman (whose brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost directed the movie) has been heavily promoting the film since its limited release last month, Wesselman-Pierce has shunned the spotlight. She declined to appear at the film's premiere at Sundance and has not publicly shared her thoughts about the movie -- she even hung up on us twice when we tried to reach her last month.

"I think she's probably had a lot of people who want to talk to her, and I don't know how much she's comfortable with talking," said Nev Schulman when we caught up with him earlier today. "She said she wasn't sure how much she wanted to participate in the promotion of the film, and she ended up choosing to be a part of a newsmagazine show."

Schulman said he spoke with Wesselman-Pierce after she filmed "20/20" but says he's not sure what she will reveal in the interview.

"Look, she's expressive. She has a voice, and she wants to be heard," he said. "All I know is that she told them her side of the story."

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Nev Schulman is the protagonist of "Catfish." Photo credit: Rogue.


'Catfish' blurs line between documentary and feature film

Join us for a live chat with the directors and stars of 'Catfish'

Sundance 2010: 'Catfish' reels them in

Join us for a live chat with the directors and stars of 'Catfish'

September 28, 2010 | 12:45 pm


How well do you know your Facebook friends?

That’s the question at the center of the new film “Catfish,” which opens wide this weekend. New York filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost set out shooting Ariel’s brother Nev after the 24-year-old photographer is contacted, out of the blue, by Abby, an 8-year-old Michigan girl who wants to make a painting of one of his published photos. Soon Nev befriends Abby’s mother, Angela, and Abby’s 19-year-old sister, Megan, with whom he starts an online / cellphone / text message romance. But is all as it seems?
The documentary has been generating a lot of buzz since it first captured attention at the Sundance Film Festival. It opened in select cities last week and is playing strong among critics and reviewers, with a 76.9% positive rating on Movie Review Intelligence. Some viewers, however, have questioned whether the movie, billed as a “reality thriller,” is really a documentary. 

You'll have a chance to get answers to your questions at 11 a.m. Pacific Tuesday, when 24 Frames hosts a live chat with Joost and the Schulman brothers. Sign up below for a reminder message.

--Lisa Fung

Photo: Ariel Schulman, left, Henry Joost and Nev Schulman in the reality thriller "Catfish." Credit: MCT

Related coverage:

'Catfish' blurs line between documentary and feature film

Movie review: 'Catfish'

Don't let anyone tell you what our 11 a.m. chat is

September 27, 2010 |  6:00 pm


This is 24 Frames. This is a blog on the Internet. There will be a live chat here Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m. PST. 

Not based on an off-camera interview. Not inspired by reader questions. Just a live, interactive conversation using the questions you submit.   

Look beyond the jump to make sure you don't miss it. 

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Sundance 2010: The seven must-see movies from this year's festival

February 1, 2010 |  7:30 am

It's pretty much time to close the book on Sundance and ship it back to Amazon. There are still one or two telling filmmaker interviews we wanted to toss you way, but other than that, the last movie fan has left Park City and the first snowboarders are beginning to trickle back in.

Bluev As we finish up, we wanted to provide a quick, handy recap of the festival just ended. It was one of the most diverse and expectation-defying Sundances in recent memory, one in which several of the most high-profile movies disappeared without a trace, their spot in the limelight taken by two films -- a lesbian dramedy that wasn't even supposed to come to the festival ("The Kids Are All Right") and a low-budget guerrilla documentary shot by a few twentysomething photographers ("Catfish") -- for which few would ever have predicted greatness.

Admittedly, there was plenty of buzz around films we simply didn't get a chance to see -- notables include award winners "Winter's Bone" and "Animal Kingdom" -- so we won't make claims of exhaustiveness (just exhaustion). But among the couple dozen we did watch, here are the seven (fewer than 10 but enough slots to avoid faking a "tie") that caught our attention -- and are well worth catching when they make their inevitable march to theaters and TV screens. If there's a theme to the list, it's that, as Kenneth Turan notes in his excellent essay rounding up this year's festival, the documentaries stood out even more than usual.  Below, the seven Sundance movies to put on your list in 2010:

7) "Lucky" -- It's a simple but intoxicating premise -- find all the overnight millionaires who cashed in winning lottery tickets and lay out what happened to them after they held up that big fake check. "Spellbound" director Jeffrey Blitz cleverly tracks down these winners and creates a psychologically significant portrait of what instant, undeserved success can do to someone's psyche and life.

6) "Blue Valentine" -- The only movie with any stars on this list; in fact, it's the only scripted feature made for more than a tiny budget that's on this list. But it's here for good reason. There's an almost hypnotic quality to how Derek Cianfrance shot his marital drama, and how stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play the couple carrying out that drama. Even when they're fighting like De La Hoya and Pacquiao, you can't take your eyes off their interaction, so intense and believable it's almost chemical.

5) "Waiting for Superman" -- Sitting in a movie theater listening to someone make a comprehensive case for why the U.S. educational system is entirely, thoroughly, in some ways irrevocably, and certainly royally messed up may not be everyone's idea of a rip-roaring night out. But Davis Gugghenheim's meticulous documentary is compelling and scary in ways that the spookiest horror movie only dreams of being. One can only hope the film will get a productive policy debate going like his "Inconvenient Truth" did a few years back. Welcome bonus: an ending showing the fate of some of the children that the film tracks would make a granite wall cry.

Til 4) "Restrepo" -- The argument against this story of a platoon stationed on a dangerous stretch of Afghanistan terrain is that it's more a collection of footage than a fully realized film. Maybe so. But the urgency of that footage and the access that directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger get, and give us, makes it so that their film is pretty much the most eye-opening way you could spend 90 minutes watching images on a screen. Hundreds of TV programs and features have been made on the subject, but none so vividly give the sense of what it's like to live, and die, as a contemporary U.S. soldier.

3) "The Freebie" -- Katie Aselton isn't married to co-star Dax Shepard in real life; her husband is Mark Duplass. But fans of the mumblecore pioneer will find much to admire about this story (which Aselton directed and Duplass executive produced) of a seemingly happy couple going through a mutually-agreed breach of their vows. Actually, everyone will find much to admire about this film, with its enchantingly (and sometimes viscerally) natural dialogue and tonally rich performances. As Hollywood studios continue to pass off movies like "It's Complicated" as legitimate explorations of love and fidelity, it's refreshing that a new generation knows what the real thing looks like.

2) "The Tillman Story" -- If you thought you knew all you pretty much needed to know about Pat Tillman's life and the reaction, both cultural and governmental, to his death, Amir Bar-Lev is here to show you otherwise. The director's film does what many great documentaries do: takes a small subject and turns it into something epic. At once a deft Michael Moore-style expose of Bush-era military conspiracy and a humanist portrait of a man who resisted categorization, "Tillman" is documentary filmmaking at its finest.

1) "Catfish" -- By now the backlash is almost over and the backlash to the backlash is underway. But the debate over whether Henry Joost's and Ariel Schulman's movie about a young photographer's strange online relationship with a seemingly wholesome Midwestern family cut corners by withholding information is beside the point. The directors have created one of the most jaw-dropping, suspenseful and touching pieces of filmmaking on the Sundance screen in years. And they did it with no budget and no track record -- in fact, they did it without even realizing, at the early stages of production, that they would be shooting a full-length film. Sundance organizers touting a 'return to roots' should be proud. The rest of us were simply impressed.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photos: Above, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine;" below, Pat Tillman in "The Tillman Story." Credit: The Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2010: 'Catfish' reels them in

January 28, 2010 |  9:40 pm

How big a Sundance phenomenon has "Catfish" become? So big that a teenager who looked very much like Joshua Hutcherson, the co-star of the other Sundance phenomenon, "The Kids Are All Right," was getting in line with hoi polloi Thursday afternoon in the lobby of the Prospector Theater, hoping to land a rare rush ticket to the screening.

Ca It's easy to see why. As our colleague Tim Swanson described earlier in the festival, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's documentary is a powerful and startling work. Following the journey of a young New York photographer (Nev Schulman, the director's brother), as he begins an online relationship with a Michigan family, it soon veers into strange and suspenseful territory as he discovers that the family is not what it appears to be.

The movie, which questions the nature of truth in an online world, doesn't really take a position on Facebook and MySpace and ambient intimacy and all that, at least not beyond the implied observation that social media can complicate human interactions as much as it can facilitate them. (At the screening, Ariel Schulman said, "We've reached out to Facebook but they haven't reached out to us. But YouTube's into it." Whatever studio winds up with this film will have a field day marketing it via social media sites.)

In some ways, "Catfish" is more of  an amazing story than an amazing movie (The Big Picture's Patrick Goldstein astutely notes  that the film represents a breakthrough by showing how great documentaries can be made from the stuff of everyday experience). But the turns it takes and the questions it raises -- not to mention the emotional payoff it ultimately offers -- makes it so that you're not really bothered by the lack of classic filmic virtue. It's our own favorite movie of the festival so (and by) far, and by the time this thing wraps up, we suspect plenty of others will make the same declaration.

The post-screening Q&A did get a little squishy when one questioner accused the filmmakers of faking the entire movie. The directors seemed startled at first, then Ariel Schulman said, "So he [Nev] is the best actor? He's the next Marlon Brando?" His voice dripped sarcasm. "And we're the best writers in Hollywood?"

It's preposterous, based on everything one sees in the film, to believe anything here was staged or faked. But after watching a movie that so persuasively exposes how few things in the modern world are as they  appear to be, it's hard to blame someone for letting their paranoia and conspiracy theories get the better of them.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Nev Schulman. Credit: The Sundance Film Festival.


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