February 4, 2010 / 7:25 AM / 9 years ago

Web-based mystery romance lures indie producer

Co-directors Ariel Schulman (L) and Henry Joost (R) smile together with the subject of the film "Catfish," Yaniv Schulman, before the film's premiere during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 22, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Independent producer Relativity Media has hooked “Catfish,” an intriguing lo-fi documentary that unfolds as a Web-based romantic mystery.

The film surprised audiences and potential distributors alike when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival nearly two weeks ago. Numerous screenings were subsequently set up in Los Angeles — on studio lots and in executives’ homes.

Relativity will release the film late in the year through its Rogue Pictures genre division. The deal includes U.S., Canadian and U.K. distribution rights.

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, “Catfish” follows Schulman’s brother Yaniv, a New York photographer who becomes involved with a Michigan family composed of a mother and father, older sister and an 8-year-old girl named Abby who mysteriously sends Yaniv paintings of his photo work.

Much of the developing cyber-romance between Yaniv and Abby’s sister Megan takes place via texting, YouTube, phone and Facebook as the film explores the delicate mysteries of 21st-century human communication and connection. The film then turns into a suspenseful narrative with an unexpectedly poignant comment on shattered dreams, which invoked bountiful praise from audiences.

Andrew Jarekci and Marc Smerling, who directed and produced the similarly disturbing “Capturing the Friedmans,” produced “Catfish.”

“‘Catfish’ is a film that could never have been made even just a few years ago,” said Jarecki. “It is a product of our generation, of miniature flip cameras, ‘sexting’ and social networking ... Moviegoers will be charmed by it, but more importantly, they will see themselves in it.”

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