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Catfish -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- Facebook opens new paths to heartbreak in "Catfish," a doc whose makers lucked into an intrigue far more twisted than anything they could have expected at the outset. Jaw-dropping and surprisingly kind-hearted considering the circumstances, it's easily engaging enough for a theatrical spin but will require clever marketing in order to preserve the surprises at its core.

Difficult to discuss without giving too much away, the story begins with a random internet-facilitated encounter: Yaniv, a New York City photographer, is emailed by Abby, an eight year-old girl who painted a picture based on one of his images. Charmed by this prodigy, Yaniv befriends her whole family -- Abby, mother Angela, and attractive older sister Megan -- via email and phone. Packages full of paintings and other gifts become a regular sight at the office Yaniv shares with his brother and a childhood friend, who start filming Yaniv with the idea of making a short about the child painter.

From there, events move in directions best left on the screen, but suffice to say that "Catfish" provides those fearful of new tech myriad reasons to second-guess life in the Second Life age. The filmmakers not only document the many ways services like Facebook and YouTube move the real-world action along, but they use the tools themselves as storytellers -- charting trips on Google Maps, calling upon the search giant's "street view" photographs to flesh out their detective work, and so on.

As the drama enters the physical world midway through the film, the footage they capture (on cameras of varying quality) grows briefly quite suspenseful, and at a few points either Yaniv or one of his buddies seems ready to pull the plug. Fortunately they didn't, and "Catfish," while it doesn't answer nearly every question it raises (watch for the DVD extras, kids), arrives at a satisfying and almost heartwarming conclusion.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production company: Supermarche
Directors: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
Producers: Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling, Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Director of photography: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, Yaniv Schulman
Editor: Zac Pontier
Sales Agent: Micah Green, CAA
No MPAA rating, 86 minutes