When New Zealand journalist David Farrier came across a Facebook page advertising “competitive endurance tickling”, he thought he’d stumbled across an amusing story, so he reached out to the company behind it (Jane O’Brien Media) for an interview. Little did Farrier know, this was the beginning of an exceedingly bizarre journey.
The reply from a representative at Jane O’Brien Media was odd to say the least. It was extremely aggressive, attacking Farrier personally and advising they didn’t want any homosexual journalists involved with their completely heterosexual sport. Umm, ok. Instead of deterring Farrier, this intrigued him, and he contacted his tech-savvy friend (and co-director) Dylan Reeve to look into the company online. Reeve then discovered hundreds of tickling-related websites registered to a German subsidiary company. Farrier knew he and Reeve were onto something weird here, so they decided to make this documentary, turning to Kickstarter for backing.
I don’t want to go too much into what happened from there, as there is much fun to be had in going along for the batshit crazy ride that this documentary takes you on. Lawsuits, threats, cyber-bullying, stolen identities, fraud, privacy violations, big money and tickling cells are just some of what the men discover as they dig further into the “sport” and the people behind it who really don’t want to be found.
A triumph of this documentary is that is does not mock, or look down on those who participate in the tickling videos. In fact, we begin to see some of these men as victims. These are young people who did something they believed was innocuous for money, which lead to them becoming tangled in the web of Jane O’Brien media – for some, it temporarily ruined their lives. The filmmakers also travel to Orlando to interview a man who runs a tickling fetish website. Unlike those at Jane O’Brien Media, he is completely above-board with what he does, and is more than happy to show them the ropes – or the restraints to be more accurate.
Tickled is an exceptionally well-made documentary, with excellent cinematography from Dominic Fryer. It’s very cinematic. The slickness of most of the film is counterbalanced with some on-the-fly filming – Farrier attempts to covertly film using his phone hidden in a coffee cup at one point. The editing by Simon Coldrick is impressive, as I can only begin to imagine how much footage he had to work with. Farrier explained during the post-film Q&A that the film was edited to the music from Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, and Carruth had allowed them to keep the music in the film. The result is a creepy, almost otherworldly quality, that emphasises the weirdness.
Each year there is a WTF documentary – something that’s too bonkers to believe, and this year that title goes to Tickled. This film twists and turns and goes to utterly unexpected places. I have a lot of respect for the filmmakers for seeing this story through, especially considering the legal and personal threats they have faced. In fact, in seems that this is an ongoing problem, with Farrier and Reeve both unable to answer some questions during the Q&A, in case a representative from Jane O’Brien Media was in the audience. Apparently they’ve been known to film Q&A’s and send the footage back to HQ..?! You really have to see this film to believe it, it’s one heck of a story.
By Sam McCosh
Director(s): David Farrier & Dylan Reeve
Country: New Zealand
Runtime: 92 minutes