David Farrier, a New Zealand pop cultural reporter whose story subjects often verge into the bizarre, believes he's found his next story when he stumbles across an online video on the world of competitive endurance tickling, a sport where the participants, with hands and feet tied down, are tickled for as long as they can endure. Participants are flown to Los Angeles first class, paid $1,500, and put up for four nights in a luxury hotel. Suitable participants are deemed to be younger, muscular males. The event is held on a monthly basis. In contacting the organizers, US-based Jane O'Brien Media, via their popular Facebook page to arrange for an interview, David receives a return message from one of their representatives, Debbie J. Kuhn, declining the offer, the message a homophobic rant largely against David. In that message, Debbie asserts that the competition is wholly a heterosexual athletic activity, she who does not appreciate what will be David's assumed gay bent on the story as a homosexual himself (which David does not state he is or isn't in his request). David finds the message all the more odd as the activity as it appears in the videos has an undeniable gay vibe. What is even more odd is that Debbie on behalf of Jane O'Brien, continually emails David over the following weeks expounding on the themes in the original message. At this time, David's friend, Dylan Reeve, enters the fray, acting initially as a researcher for David, and then eventually as co-filmmaker for a documentary on the subject. However, the documentary eventually morphs from the sport of competitive endurance tickling into the mysterious world of Jane O'Brien and Debbie Kuhn, especially: as they seem to have unlimited resources both to hold the events and to conduct their online harassment they learn not only of David, but of former associates who now seem to want to distance themselves from the "sport" and Jane O'Brien Media; as Jane and Debbie initiate legal action and threaten even more legal action, and issue general threats time and time against David and Dylan not only for this unauthorized documentary but for their activities toward Jane O'Brien Media as a whole; and as no one seems to know who Debbie or Jane are, even the people that work for them, or what their end goal is, namely what will be done with the resulting videos of the competitions, which populate the Internet. The story takes a further twist when David and Dylan learn there truly is a tickling sexual fetish subculture, one within that community, Richard Ivey, who willingly talks to David and who remembers someone else online decades ago within the community with a similar M.O. to Debbie and Jane.
David Farrier (Himself), Dylan Reeve (Himself), Marko Realmonte (Himself), Kevin Clarke (Himself), Adam (Himself), T.J. Gretzner (Himself, former tickle competitor (as TJ)), Richard Ivey (Himself, tickle fetishist), David Starr (Himself (as Dave Starr)), Anne James (Herself, radio host, KSEN / K96 (voice) (archive footage)), Alden (Himself, former tickle video performer), Hal Karp (Himself, journalist 1992-2007), Debbie Scoblionkov (Herself, journalist 1981-2006), Jordan Schillaci (Himself), Lance Roberts (Himself (voice)), David D'Amato (Himself, aka Terri Tickle aka Terri DiSisto aka Jane O'Brien aka Jane J. O'Brien aka Debbie Kuhn), Romeo Salta (Himself, attorney allegedly hired by Jane O'Brien Media), Dorothy (Herself, David P. D'Amato's stepmother (voice)), Mr. Lordi (Himself (archive footage) (uncredited))
New Zealand journalist David Farrier came upon the strange phenomena of competitive endurance tickling when searching online for new avenues to write articles on. He duly contacted the group who organised it, Jane O'Brien Media, but was met with a volley of abuse. After some to-ing and fro-ing they sent over representatives to Auckland to meet Farrier and his fellow film-maker, which only led to further threats. This bullying encouraged the two film-makers to go to the United States to try and find out more about what dark forces were behind this seemingly innocuous, if somewhat bizarre, online activity.
Tickled has been described as the new Catfish (2010) and not entirely without justification. It shares the concept of a documentary following a mystery route where strange secrets are uncovered. In this one an enigmatic empire seems to lie behind the world of tickling, which is really not a competitive endurance based activity at all but an odd sexual fetish. It turns out it is harmless enough to get many young men involved when there is a cash incentive but embarrassing enough to cause them many problems when these tickle videos begin to be posted everywhere online by the media group who own them. The videos are used in this way as a means of ensuring the men comply with the demands of the mysterious leader Jane O'Brien, if the boys refuse to do more work then the videos are posted everywhere with their real names attached to them. The film-makers soon discovered that most of these young men were consequently too afraid to speak out but one or two individuals do talk and detail the levels of blackmail, bullying and exploitation they have had to endure. There group behind it seem to be as much interested in power and control, as they are in their sexual fetish. The investigation begins in the earliest days of the internet and continues to the present day. There is a big reveal late on but it's best not to say too much about it.
It could probably be argued that, while this one has a very interesting premise, it doesn't necessarily wrap things up as strongly as it might. By the end it feels like there are still more questions than answers. Still, this is an interesting and strange story and despite one or two flaws, it's one that makes for fascinating viewing.
David Farrier: I started this journey curious about a bizarre sport called Competitive Endurance Tickling. But I now think this was never even about tickling... This is about power, control and harassment. It's about one person's twistedness, and how far that can go. One person, who has managed to shelter himself with money to keep his obsession going. But now, it's his life exposed. For once, it's him on camera.
1 win & 16 nominations
Chlotrudis Awards • Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US • Cleveland International Film Festival • Critics' Choice Documentary Awards • Detroit Film Critics Society, US • Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA) • Golden Trailer Awards • Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival • Melbourne International Film Festival • Nantucket Film Festival • New Zealand Film and TV Awards (II) • Phoenix Critics Circle • Seattle Film Critics Awards • Sundance Film Festival
Kittlad (Finland (Swedish title)) • Tickled: Kutituspornon Jäljillä (Finland (TV title)) • Csiklandozás életre-halálra (Hungary) • L'impero del solletico (Italy) • Polaskotany (Poland) • Totul despre gâdilat (Romania) • Tickle King (World-wide (working title) (English title))
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