Josh reporting on a hot find at the Sydney Film Festival.
When the credits rolled at the screening of Tickled at the Sydney Film Festival, the frantic dumbstruck reaction from the audience was palpable. You could see everyone turning to each other, wide eyed and picking their jaws up from the floor. The proceeding Q&A with the filmmakers had hands flying into the air with exasperated questions. And all this from a documentary about tickling!
Directed by Dylan Reeve and David Farrier, the latter who is also front and centre in the film, the film unravels the bizarre and gripping story surrounding Jane O’Brien Media and its non-monetised website generating videos of young athletic men tickling each other.
When Farrier first approaches them for information for a story, he receives a homophobic tirade in reply, not wanting an openly gay journalist like Farrier to be in anyway associated with the videos which they insist are not erotic, not homosexual and an athletic endurance contest. Just featuring tied up athletic young men straddling each other and touching each other. This only encourages Farrier and Reeve to dig deeper.
What follows is a barrage of legal threats with huge financial backing, that only spurs the filmmakers on down the rabbit hole that takes them into an intricate world of systemic abuse, lies, exploitation, privacy breaches, corruption, and… tickling. The jaw droping twists never cease. The irony of extremely serious and abhorrent behaviour in conjunction with tickling videos, is never lost, but well handled by the filmmakers, never letting the story’s absurdity or seriousness overwhelm the other. Importantly, the tickling itself is never regarded as deviant behaviour, just the abuse surrounding it.
This is documentary filmmaking at its finest. The content is bravely sought, and expertly assembled. The kiwi wit is always present, which somehow only makes moments of extreme tension all the more nerve wracking. A stake-out and the opportunity to confront one of the major figures in the whole operation draws more tension than any commercial thriller. The initial premise doesn’t seem capable of lasting a feature length, but the full iceberg that is revealed is equally terrifying and hilarious at every turn. The less you know going in beforehand, the better.
The film was picked up at Sundance for a limited US distribution in theatres (June 16th in the US) before hitting HBO. Despite its shiver-inducing content, this is a crowd pleaser. Watch the world go nuts for this unique, bizarre and expertly crafted documentary.