Published Jun 23, 2016In spring of 2014, David Farrier — a New Zealand journalist best known for his quirky television segments and culture reporting — stumbled upon something he'd never seen before: the sport of competitive endurance tickling, and a whole group who seemed dedicated to promoting it.
Curious, he sent off a Facebook message. The response he received back was jarring: that he should stop his investigation, as they didn't want Farrier covering them due to his sexuality.
"It was odd and interesting to me… the really weird dissonance between this homoerotic content being created in this competition and that they didn't want a gay journalist looking into it," he says.
Against their wishes, he dug deeper. What he found was a weird network of participants stretching across the western world, a trail of online harassment and blackmail in its wake, and a shadowy and wealthy figure behind it all.
The result is Tickled, a 2016 Sundance selection and Hot Docs smash, directed by and starring Farrier and his friend/co-worker/confidant Dylan Reeve, about their attempt to make sense of a story far stranger than fiction.
Speaking by phone from New York a few days before the film's initial American release, the pair have booked off a day to do interviews, and with good reason: Tickled is one of the more confounding documentaries to be released in a decade, and everyone wants to know more about it. Suffice to say the attention has started to wear on the duo (their American publicist pushes back my talk with them 15 minutes so they can go for a walk and clear their heads after a particularly tiring interview).
But when they return to the phone they're accommodating with their answers and chipper, if a little sick of their conversations' subject matter.
"Going through a day without talking about tickling would be an amazing thing for me in my life," says Reeve. "Literally, every day. And if it's not this stuff, it's friends, or people I know just in the office, or on Twitter. It's amazing. I never could have imagined at the beginning that it was going to be such a monster."
"We're hearing a lot from other people involved in this world as this documentary rolls out and we're going to hear from a lot more people," Farrier adds.
One of those people is Kevin Clarke, a subject in the film (who isn't portrayed in the best light) who has created a website with a similar title to theirs in an attempt to share his side of the story. He's even shown up at festival screenings and Q&A's, most recently at its premiere in Los Angeles. A defamation lawsuit was brought up back in March.
"Honestly, it's an interesting supplementary feature to the DVD," Farrier jokes. "It's weird to me, because [the website is] defamatory about me — there was a bit the other day that said I smoked a whole bunch of marijuana while making the documentary, and I don't smoke marijuana. It's amusing and strange and odd.
"I don't really want to sue anybody. To me, this whole experience, right from the start with this Facebook comment saying, 'I don't want to deal with a homosexual journalist,' it's off putting and odd, but it's ultimately part of the story, and if it's out there it's out there. I'm happy for people to read it."
And as far as threats of legal action, Farrier and Reeve aren't overly concerned (and neither, it would seem, are HBO and Magnolia Pictures, who signed on to distribute the film).
"In the middle of all these threats of litigation and that sort of thing, at the end of the day, Dylan and I both work in television in New Zealand and we're not rich," Farrier says. "So what's the worst thing that could happen?"
Tickled gets a limited run in Canadian theatres starting June 24 at Toronto's Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and Montreal's Cinema Du Parc, followed by screenings in Waterloo, Vancouver and Calgary. Visit tickledmovie.com for more information.