There’s always a little extra energy and anticipation at film festival screenings. I’ve been to countless screenings at festivals over the years, but the screening of David Farrier’s and Dylan Reeve’s Tickled that I attended at the singular True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri last March had an unusual charge to it.
The film, making its Columbus debut here on Friday and Saturday, tracks the New Zealand journalist David Farrier’s discovery and investigation of the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” At first it promises to be an amusing “news of the weird” story prospect for him but then the threatening emails start arriving.
One of the pleasures of a film festival is having the rare opportunity, in this media saturated culture, to see a film before you know much about it. And this is a film that has lots of surprises, as did the screening itself. I’m reluctant to say too much about the movie because I know how enjoyable it is to discover it unfold with few expectations or preconceptions. I’ll just say that the screening at True/False had the audience at the edge of their seats, alternating between laughs and gasps as the twists and turns start to unfurl.
During a particularly suspenseful moment in the movie, the lights in the auditorium turned on and the movie stopped. If you go to enough movies, you’re going to encounter technical problems and this seemed like a pretty standard situation. Until a couple of police officers came in and started talking to audience members in the front row. (The Wex’s friend and one of Ohio’s finest filmmaker’s Steve Bognar was actually hosting the screening and came out to ably distract the audience during this confusion-inducing lull.) After a few minutes, the officers escorted the audience members out of the theater. It felt like something out of a William Castle movie, where the activity on the screen spills out in a performance/stunt into the audience. The film was creating a sense of dread that seemingly could be located anywhere and it was here in our audience!
It made for a particularly nerve-wracking second half of the film, which features some particularly tense scenes. The film became one of the big talking points for anyone at the festival. Eventually the story began to emerge. One of the subjects of the film is very litigious (to put it mildly) and, purportedly, two audience members were attempting to record the film. Possibly even using a method that the filmmakers use in the movie itself. And then later in the afternoon, at a reception for the filmmakers and other guests of the festival, one of the film’s directors got served papers for a defamation lawsuit.
The disruptions around the film continued up through the film’s theatrical release in Los Angeles, with subjects featured in the film confronting the filmmakers in the lobby outside the theater. The film is remarkable for how it can balance humor and tension. And the filmmakers have been impressively capable of remaining undeterred in the face of these continued attacks and lawsuits. Earlier in this post, I mentioned that the movie spills off the screen. But, of course, a documentary should be responding to the world itself and these activities surrounding Tickled show that the world captured in the movie continues on well past the point of filming and editing. This continuing litigation just bolsters the ideas conveyed in a surprisingly unique and captivating film.
Get your tickets for this weekend's screenings here.