There is an understandable exasperation in Ariel Schulman's voice when he's asked if his film, the documentary Catfish, is fake.
"We all know how real it is, because we were there. We experienced it. It's never been a question for us. It's not our job to convince people to be more open minded to the amazingness of real life," he says, referring to his co-director, Henry Joost, and the subject of the film, his younger brother Nev.
They might know how real the film is, but many others aren't so sure.
Since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the film has been dogged by questions of its authenticity.
Ostensibly a documentary, Catfish follows Nev Schulman, a New York photographer in his early 20s, as he becomes friends with a young girl from Michigan. The two become pals online and then Nev begins to fall for the young girl's older half-sister, a gorgeous singer and dancer named Megan. But through some astounding events, Nev and the filmmakers discover that the family he has been communicating with online and over the phone may not be everything he's believed them to be.
All the film's twists and turns are so shocking it's no wonder audiences have been sceptical.
Morgan Spurlock, for example, the documentarian behind Super Size Me, has called it the "best fake documentary I've ever seen."
Nev Schulman says he can understand why some people might think the movie is fake.
"I think it has a lot more to do with the style in which it was put together and the unbelievable chance and luck involved with the story happening to me and me sharing an office with filmmakers," he says.
Considering all the hoaxes we've been exposed to in recent years, from the YouTube phenomenon that was Lonelygirl15 through to the most recent revelation that Casey Affleck's supposed documentary I'm Still Here featuring Joaquin Phoenix was all just an act, doubting the veracity of Catfish seems entirely warranted. Throw in the fact that the film is being referred to as a "reality thriller" and it's easy to suspect there's something fishy about the film.
But questions of whether or not the film is fake haven't affected audiences, Ariel Schulman says.
"It doesn't seem to leave anyone liking it less. They still have the same response, they're still moved or learn the same life lessons from the film whether it's real or fake," he says.
One of the more touching life lessons in the movie comes when Nev finally discovers the truth. Rather than lashing out in anger, he does his best to understand the person who has been deceiving him.
"Forgiveness and compassion are the only way to really move ahead in life," he says.
While you might expect that the experiences captured in the movie would lead Nev to never again trust anything he's exposed to online, he still thinks of the digital world in the same terms he did before the documentary was shot, he says.
"I have the same relationship with the Internet now as I did then, which is love/hate," he says.
Still, the ride he was taken on has taught him a valuable lesson about interacting with others.
"Invest more time into the people who are really in your life. If you have the urge to share something inconsequential on Twitter, share something real with someone who's sitting in the room next to you," he says.
The film's co-directors say they too have learned a few important life lessons from making the movie.
"Be careful on the Internet. For every lie there's a truth, for every truth there's a lie. For everything that you choose to portray about yourself on your [Facebook]profile there's something you choose not to portray," Ariel Schulman says.
And while it would be all too easy to write off social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace as repositories of lies and misinformation, the deceptions found in them are no different than the ones people peddle when their computers are off, Mr. Joost says.
"Things are not black and white in life or on the Internet," he says.
Nor are they at the movies.