It has become close to impossible to tell fact from fiction in “documentary style” films: for example, the elaborate hoax of Joaquin Phoenix’s rap career in “I’m Still Here.” The jury is still out on the almost-too-good-to-be-true Sundance favorite “Catfish,” which isn’t classified as a documentary but as a “reality thriller,” which filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost say is absolutely true.
The story follows Schulman’s brother Nev as he develops a friendship with an 8-year-old who is a fan of his photography and tracks him down online. We can’t say more than that, because the shocking twists in the film leave us thinking that either Schulman and Joost were the luckiest documentarians ever, or they settled for “truthiness” over actual reality. We grilled the two on their supposedly dumb luck to try to get an answer.
Many people think the events in “Catfish” didn’t happen in the way that you present them. What’s your answer to that?
Joost: I don’t think this film or the way that it happened is surprising at all to our friends, because they’re familiar with how much we film things. The fact that something developed into a story is crazy — but it’s not, given how much we shoot all the time.
The story unravels slowly in the film, but there is criticism that you saw the twists coming sooner than you indicate.
Joost: It [started as] a different story from what it ended up being. It was a story about Nev corresponding with an 8-year-old girl on the Internet, which I think from most people’s criteria is a good enough story to film. We thought it was going to be a short film and then it changed and then it changed again.
Do you ever worry about how you’re going to top this film?
Schulman: We worry about it every day.