TV

Documentary 'Catfish' was born of accident and genius

The ability to create and compose a film is no small gift, but sometimes the best documentaries are those that happen because someone was fortunate enough to be in the right place and time with a camera rolling.

Catfish began life with filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost documenting the rising fortunes of Ariel's photographer brother Nev, who had a photo published in The New York Sun and, a few months later, received a painting of that photo from an admiring stranger.

That mailing led to a relationship with the sender over Facebook, which eventually moved to the phone and quickly spread to include multiple members of the sender's family. Saying any more would constitute spoiling what happens next, and spoiling what happens next would be a crime against what might be the most arresting documentary you see all year.

Catfish's theatrical release was accompanied shortly after by news reports expounding on the film's developments, but if you haven't seen those reports and don't know what happens, know this: What you assume about the authenticity of this relationship is probably somewhat on target, but the ensuing details behind that revelation almost certainly are not.

The fun of watching Catfish is seeing just how strange Nev's story gets, but the real genius of the film is its effortless ability to separate effect from intent. You'll have to watch to see exactly what that means, but given how thoroughly entertaining that task is, it isn't so much a task as an urging. If you like human drama at all, don't skip this one.

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