Vancouver woman’s Facebook photos lead to ‘Catfish’ documentary

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

Updated: October 8, 2010, 8:25 AM

 

Filming for the documentary “Catfish” was nearly complete before Vancouver resident Aimee Gonzales even knew she had a starring role. Now it has generated buzz at the Sundance Film Festival, reached Portland movie screens and landed Gonzales an interview on “20/20” that airs tonight.

Gonzales is embracing the publicity and the attention it’s bringing her business, Bella Divine Photography. But the story at the heart of “Catfish” continues to trouble her. A word of warning: What follows reveals details that don't come out until far into the film. If you want to be surprised, skip to the last paragraph to see when Gonzales will be on TV and where the documentary is showing.

Filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost originally set out to document a burgeoning online romance between Ariel’s brother, Yaniv Schulman, and Megan Faccio, a woman he knew only through the Web. When Yaniv decided to surprise Megan at her home, camera crew in tow, he quickly learned that Megan did not exist.

Instead, a Michigan woman had constructed an elaborate network of false Facebook identities using photos she had taken from Gonzales’ profile and website. As a result, a number of local people make cameos in the film, including Gonzales’ husband, Andrew, sister April Williams of Vancouver, and sister Shanti Laird of Washington, D.C., who previously lived in Vancouver.

Gonzales has since increased privacy settings on many of her Facebook photos — though she leaves others public to promote her photo studio.

Finding out about the use of her pictures “was draining, violating,” she said. “It’s like somebody breaking into your house. She stole my face.”

But she appreciates the film and has become friends with the filmmakers. Gonzales, 30, said she’s also flattered that people believed she was only 19 years old from the photos.

A “20/20” program about the documentary, featuring Gonzales, airs tonight at 10 on ABC. “Catfish” is showing at Regal Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema.