Journalist David Farrier made a career of looking at the weird and bizarre side of life in New Zealand. One day while looking for material for his TV show on HBO, he came across a series of “competitive endurance tickling” events in the US and thought it would make a very peculiar film. What Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve couldn’t guess was that this initiative would take them into a real minefield of subjects and taboos. Tickled is a documentary about porn, homosexuality, blackmailing, crime, fetishism and shame.
Farrier was intrigued by the videos of male adolescents and young adults involved in this competition and emailed Jane O’Brien, who apparently was in charge of the American business. “Clothes are on. From what we could tell there’s nothing else. It’s tickling in clothes.”, says Farrier. It’s not clear, however, how this business generates money.
The American entrepreneur identified as O’Brien reacted angrily to the e-mails, ordering the New Zealand crew to stop investigating their business. The tone of the emails was aggressive and insulting, and she threatened legal action. At last, O’Brian said she would send some people to New Zealand to get into an agreement with them.
Farrier waited for them at the airport, with a big sign… and a camera on. That was not a very sensible thing to do. Three men recognised the sign and promptly ordered them to switch off the camera. More threats followed. The kiwis continued their investigation and found out a series of further domains related to these videos. They then decided to fly to the US in order to interview some of the men filmed by O’Brian.
Many of the young men were scared to talk to their camera. Farrier and Reeve took weeks to convince them, and only one of them (called Jordan) eventually agreed. At this point, HBO was no longer fully funding the project, and so they decided for a crowdfunding campaign instead.
The filmmakers continued their investigative journalism and found out that Jane O’Brian was in reality a creation of David D’Amato. D’Amato is a millionaire lawyer, son of an American banker, who was busted by FBI.
Apart from the crimes of harassment and false identity D’Amato committed, Tickled reveals an intriguing and disturbing plot where D’Amato threatens “to out” the subjects of his movie as gay porn stars. The videos did not contain any sex scenes but the suggestion of homosexuality and pornography terrified the teenagers. They had accepted a large sum of money to participate in those videos. Some of them were sons of Republican and military families.
Tickled was a sensation earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, in the US. It opens at Picturehouse Central this Thursday August 18th, followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers. The nationwide theatrical release is on the following day.
You can watch the film trailer below: