Lawsuit Could Reveal The Truth Behind Catfish
Even as it was drawing in packed crowds at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the documentary Catfish was already raising eyebrows about its relationship to the truth. Purported to be an entirely true story about a Manhattan twentysomething embarking on an online relationship that turned out to be not at all what it seemed, Catfish was a moving story about the modern digital age and struggles to find connections in cyberspace, but it also seemed a little too convenient as a true story, with a whopper of a twist that gave the film so much meaning, but looked at in a certain light, seemed too good to be true.
Filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, along with the main documentary subject Nev Schulman, have maintained throughout that the film is entirely true, but now they may be forced to do so under oath. According to THR the filmmakers are facing a lawsuit from a musician whose music is used in the film, and if it turns out the moment in question wasn't real life but was actually staged, they could wind up owing her money and in turn, confessing that the moment wasn't real.
To explain further, I need to spoil a major plot point of Catfish, so SPOILER WARNING if you haven't seen the movie.
The musician, Amy Kuney, is protesting the movie's use of her song "All Downhill From Here," which Nev's online girlfriend Megan sent to him pretending it was her own song. When Nev uncovers Kuney's performance of it on YouTube he starts unraveling the ruse at the center of his relationship with Megan, eventually revealing that Megan isn't real at all, but the creation of a middle-aged Michigan woman named Angela. "All Downhill From Here" plays during Nev's discovery of its actual origins and also during the closing credits; the filmmakers defend their use under Fair Use law, which allows copyrighted songs to be included in documentaries. If the scene was staged, though, Fair Use doesn't apply, and the filmmakers will have to pay up.
For what it's worth, Catfish producer Marc Smerling is confident they'll come out on top: "This is definitely fair use because it's a true story," he told THR, adding, "We are hoping to come to fair and equitable arrangement with them." If the suit winds up in court, though, we may wind up learning just how many shades of the truth are in the film after all.
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