Why We Can Never Trust The Internet
You know that hot chick you think you've been talking to online? Well, what if you travelled half way across the country to meet her and it turned out she wasn't who you thought she was. Are you naive, gullible? Too innocent for this harsh, bitter world? Well it happened to the guys who made the movie Catfish. Here's what one of the directors had to say. Oh yeah, there are spoilers galore so be warned.
What were you trying to achieve when you started making the movie?
Henry Joost: As a group of friends, we just film everything all the time. Our tolerance, or our criteria, for finding something interesting is pretty low. That just comes from us being filmmakers excited by the fact that you can carry around a HD pocket camera all the time. But when Ariel started filming, he thought he was making what would probably end up being a short film about Nev having a strange online relationship and about these two artists inspiring each other. It had crossed our minds that maybe we'd discovered some kind of prodigy level painter and that would be our story.
Did you have any suspicions that the relationship was kind of weird?
That was actually my first instinct, that this was strange. Did this girl's mother know that they're exchanging emails? And also, why is she giving Nev all these paintings for free? But it all got explained away by the complexity of the relationship. In the very beginning, Ariel and Nev's mum called up Angela because she had similar concerns and they spoke for 45 minutes and they both got on and really liked each other. So for us that was the seal of approval and that made it a lot more normal. If we did raise questions with Nev about it, he was so invested in it that he could explain away any questions we had.
So the doubts were explained away by Nev's enthusiasm to keep up the correspondence?
What I thought at the beginning was that it was some sort of scam, because it didn't make sense for someone to give away that much work for free to someone. But then [Nev and Abby] decided they were going to split the profits from all the paintings that were [made] from his photos, and they were going to do prints and basically go into business together. At one point Angela sent Nev a cheque for $500 because Abby had won a painting contest from a painting of one of his photos. And that was when my financial scam fears evaporated.
The film takes a sinister turn as you get to the farm house. Were there worries that it could turn into some kind of low rent horror movie?
That probably was the scariest moment of my life. It seemed like a good idea when we were in Colorado thousands of miles away and then we thought, wait a minute here, we are in a part of the country we've never been and we don't know anyone here and we're sneaking around in someone's house at two in the morning; what are we, idiots? But it seemed that it was too important to stop. We were on a mission to find the truth and that was the most important thing.
Then you get there and meet Angela, who it turns out has been lying to you. Is she an evil genius?
The biggest surprise for me when we got there was that we didn't discover some villain, she was a real person who was very, very smart, in a very difficult life situation who is basically, I would guess, a frustrated artist. I'm not condoning what she did in any way but I do feel it was a type of creative expression in trying to deal with the life situation that she has.
What about the woman whose image was stolen (Megan). What's she got to say about all this craziness?
We contacted her after about six months and she was incredibly surprised. She had no idea all this was going on. She went through a whole range of emotions-she felt violated, and then when we showed her the footage of Angela, she had the same reaction that everybody else has, you can kind of understand where she's coming from. [Megan] became a real supporter of the film. She came to Sundance and was interviewed on TV. It was kind of a surreal career booster for her.
How has the movie affected Angela's family?
We haven't really spoken to them about it, but they're dealing with it privately. After Sundance, when it was clear that somebody was going to buy the film and wanted to release it, we went back and we said we just want to make sure it's going to be OK with you that it's going to be released in this way. And we went back and got all of their permission again. But as far as I know, Vince (Angela's husband) has not seen the film yet. He knows what it's about but I don't think he's ready to see it. I imagine it may be very painful for him to watch.
And the little girl?
She definitely hasn't seen it. She knows that there's a movie and we've talked about that, but her mum Angela's explained it in the way you explain it to a 9-year-old. At some point, that's going to be a very difficult conversation between the two of them.
Are you all still in contact with Angela?
He is a little bit, but me and Ariel are more. We went back and we showed her the film. I think that out of the rubble, we've developed a friendship that extends beyond just the movie. We talk about things like friends talk about things. She really credits that moment in her life as a turning point and is pleased that none of us got angry and accepted her, and were interested in her, and continued to be interested in her. [It] helped her to build the confidence to be herself online. She's focused more on her paintings and now she's doing things she's really good at, like painting and designing websites. A lot of people in her community have reached out and embraced her as a creative person.
Is there another aspect to the movie, the divide between the affluent city dwellers and poorer, more rural Americans?
To me, it shows that one place has more opportunities than the other. If I want to write a screenplay or a novel, I can sit down and write all these characters and each of these characters will have a little piece of myself and I'll be working out my personal problems in that creative process. But for someone like Angela who doesn't have that opportunity, she's searching for another outlet, another medium, but it's not that she's less creative. A lot of her paintings and reasons was that she was reaching out and wanted to be part of a creative community like we have in New York. But the great thing about the internet is that she can be connected to people she wants to be connected to, she can share her work, regardless of where she is.
What lessons can we all learn from your bizarre experience?
I hesitate to say because it's such a complicated question. The thing that I like about the movie is that everybody brings their own personal experience to it and reflects on that. I think you can see in the movie a lot of contradictory lessons, like we have to be careful online and what we share online, but at the same time we shouldn't close ourselves off to new experiences and shouldn't be too quick to judge people because everybody has somewhere they're coming from. And I don't think any of us would take this experience back, including the three of us and Angela, because it's changed all of us and we're grateful for it. It really challenged my expectations about people and it was a bonding experience for the three of us going through that.
Who's the catfish in the movie? [In the film, Vince tells a story catfish used in transporting fish to chase the other fish and keep them alert and active]
It always seemed obvious to me that it was Angela, but then after we started showing people the film everybody had a different idea. Some people thought it was Nev, some people thought it was the internet, some thought it was us, the filmmakers. I think all of those are valid.