Movies: Catfish ***
(12A, limited release)
Almost as soon as it was released, Catfish became mired in controversy, with some critics doubting it was a fact-based documentary at all but rather a carefully staged coup. If you go to see it you'll realise why, but I would urge you to do so regardless because, whether true or not, it's one of the most absorbing little films I've seen in a while.
Young photographer and filmmaker Nev Schulman lives with his brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost, who are also filmmakers, in a New York loft.
Nev develops an unlikely online relationship with an eight-year-old girl from Michigan called Abby Pierce after she sends him a painting based on one of his published photographs. The painting is remarkably accomplished for a child of that age, and as the months pass Abby sends him more of the same.
Through Facebook, Nev meets Abby's glamorous mother, as well as a much older sister with whom he develops a flirtatious online relationship. Ariel and Henry are so intrigued by all this that they decide to make Nev and Abby the subject of a documentary. But when the three lads set out for Michigan to meet Abby and her family, their adventure takes a different turn.
Made for less than $200,000 with considerable ingenuity and skill, Catfish is probably a sign of the kind of independent films we'll be getting in years to come. Although seemingly superficial, it manages to raise serious issues about the downside of instant mass communication, and the wild, uncharted world that social networking has opened up. Whether or not it's all true is another matter entirely.