SUNDANCE 2010

Sundance Doc 'Catfish' Potentially Picked Up by Paramount?

by
February 1, 2010
Source: Twitter

Catfish Documentary

I'm on my way home from Sundance today and as I was reading through Twitter, I noticed an interesting tweet from a friend who said that he was missing a screening of the documentary Catfish being held on the Paramount lot tomorrow night. If you haven't heard all the buzz yet, Catfish is one of the few breakout films from Sundance this year, getting some of the best buzz of the fest (even though it didn't win any awards). I took at look at the invite, which is a standard test screening invite, but it's being held on the Paramount lot - and I know that Paramount never shows films there unless its their own. So did Paramount buy the doc?

Let's not forget that just before Sundance began, Paramount made a big purchase, picking up the Audience Award winning doc Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim (also of An Inconvenient Truth, which Paramount released a few years earlier). Either Paramount is really interested in documentaries or they're looking for "the next" Paranormal Activity. For those that may have forgotten, Paranormal debuted at Slamdance (the sister fest of Sundance, also held in Park City during the exact same week) back in 2007, Paramount quietly bought it, and didn't unleash it until 2009, two years later (earning them $108 million).

Getting back to Catfish, on the test screening invite, they specifically mention that attendees should "have seen and enjoyed" films like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Slumdog Millionaire or An Inconvenient Truth. Is it a coincidence that they just named three of Paramount's biggest indie successes in the last few years? I think not. Erik Davis of Cinematical picked up on all the Twitter buzz as well, asking the same question: "Is 'Catfish' the Next 'Paranormal Activity'?" Obviously the films couldn't be more unlike each other (one is a documentary, the other is pretending to be a documentary). But maybe that's exactly it, maybe they think they can turn this into a huge hit, and they're testing it tomorrow for marketing reasons.

First things first, if they do pick up Catfish, they should change the title. I've seen the documentary (and it's one of my favorites of the fest) and I can tell you that the title has nothing to do with anything in it. At one point it's mentioned, but that line is pretty much irrelevant and has no connection with the rest of the story. But the key to this film's success is keeping its story a secret. Much like Paranormal or Cloverfield, its the experience of going in without knowing anything and watching the story unfold in front of you that makes it so incredible. Which is why we haven't spoken much about the story that I hope remains a secret.

Along with Blue Valentine (another fest favorite), Catfish was one of the films that I was hoping would be picked up by a powerful distributor that would know what to do with it (to turn it into a breakout indie hit). If Paramount has indeed quietly bought the film, then I'll be very excited to see what they can do with it, because they were able to turn Paranormal into a hit (then milk it for every last penny by turning it into a franchise). Catfish, on the other hand, is not only a great doc but it speaks lengths about the internet and society today. I'd love to see them turn it into an indie hit as well and I hope they're the ones releasing it.

We'll be following this story closely as it develops and keeping everyone informed about Catfish. If you're interested in learning more about this documentary and why it has so much buzz, read Brandon's review or the description from the Sundance guide. But don't read anything else about it - don't ruin the experience!

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  • Ian
    I'm very unconvinced it's a 'documentary'. It comes across as fake -- not because the 'twist' is unbelievable but because the reason for the documentary to begin with is unlikely (they're filming him because he has a facebook relationship with an 8 year old girl? creepy), his reactions on camera are way too smooth, he feels like he's acting. Also, too often there is a perfect storm of circumstance for their 'discoveries' and it feels very staged, even down to the disagreements that the filmmakers have with each other. Fake or not, I found the protagonist utterly loathsome and the storyline is very, very far from being a twist. Even our 'hero' guesses the same early in the movie. Ultimately, this is getting buzz that's undeserved. Kudos to the filmmakers for faking audiences to the extent they have.
  • Matthew Brown
    One of the first things established in the film is that the filmmakers spend a lot of time filming each other, for no particular reason. It's just what they do. Anyone who saw Banksy: Exit through the Giftshop (my favourite from the festival) would have seen another person who has the same compulsive need to document everything. If you were at a Q&A, you would have noticed one of them holding a camera at all times. So allegations that the whole thing was engineered are a little hard to accept. I think a good analogy would be that they were/are fishermen – they didn't create the story, but they were ready for it when it came along.
  • http://youtube.com/hallhcoverage Keith
  • http://www.firstshowing.net Alex Billington
    #3 - I know, I've been following the story and she has some big updates on it... Very curious to see what happens in the next day or two after the test screening. Nikki Finke is saying that there are a few studios that are very interested in picking this up, not just Paramount! #1 - As I said elsewhere: "I don’t fully believe that claim yet. It's an interesting theory but not yet proven to be true. But with that said, even if is true, it's still an incredibly exhilarating film to watch. The experience alone makes up for it and if you didn't know about that theory going in, you wouldn't have ever thought that was the case. And that, to me, is extraordinary filmmaking."
  • Aaron
    Not sure how you can say that the line where catfish is brought up has nothing to do with the movie. It has EVERYTHING to do with the movie, and it's quite touching too. You're way, way off on that.
  • dsmccoy
    I agree with Aaron. I've seen Catfish and the speech where "catfish" is mentioned essentially sums up the entire film philosophically. I found it very thought provoking. Faked or not is hard to say with 100% certainty, but I don't think it was faked. I could easily believe that the filmmakers might have been suspicious much earlier than they portray in the film, but that wouldn't change my opinion of the film. I was also at a Q&A where Ariel Shulman had his pocket camera filming most of the time. He has a really unobtrusive and relaxed way of holding it. I don't doubt he points it at his brother a lot.
  • http://bit.ly/anE6RZ jazz
    Catfish, the Sundance hit documentary, is poised to be the most controversial film of 2010 because it exposes the grim reality of our modern world. Check out this trailer here: http://bit.ly/anE6RZ
  • http://www.goodxo.com Moncler Jacket
    in the film, but that wouldn't change my opinion of the film
  • boy
    I know the filmmakers say it's all true but there are things that still make me think the film or "documentary movie" is fake. Check out. http://www.IsCatfishFake.com

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