Even though the ad for the movie “Tickled” says, “It’s not what you think,” New Zealand director David Farrier admits that most viewers have the wrong impression about the film before they see it.
“Most people think it’s a mockumentary,” says Ferrier, simply due to the nature of the subject: “competitive endurance tickling.”
But the intriguing documentary, which opens today, isn’t about a seemingly silly sport. It’s about an underground industry that exploits young men, often in need of cash, who are paid to appear in fetish videos — being tied up, tickling each other — that are published online.
Afterward, the guys often face harassment and threats, as did Ferrier, a news reporter who only decided to make the movie after he sent an email query to a clandestine production company about doing a story on “competitive tickling” and promptly received gay-bashing emails demanding he back off and promising legal action if he didn’t.
The hostility made him want to dig deeper.
“After they sent three men to New Zealand to tell us not to do anything, we got our Kickstarter funding going,” Farrier says, and the project, with a lot of careful planning involving visits to film in the U.S., kicked into action.
On their quest to uncover the buried source of the videos and the threats, Farrier and his co-director Dylan Reeve (whose preparation included studying documentaries such as “Biggie and Tupac” and “The Jinx”) met and filmed victims as well as journalists who had researched the phenomenon.
Putting himself in situations where he knew he wasn’t wanted, Ferrier says he was scared at times, and that, even today, two years later, he’s still surprised at events surrounding the topic — for example, the fact that the film’s elusive central character showed up at an opening weekend screening in Los Angeles and told Reeve during the Q&A that he needed to “lawyer up.”
While Ferrier estimates that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people may have been affected by this industry in the past 20 years, he says he didn’t want to “demonize the whole tickling world,” so he included footage of a “good” fetish tickler, Richard Ivey, a likable
video maker who didn’t abuse his subjects and was able to explain the appeal of tickling for the audience.
The movie also has allowed people involved in the phenomenon — positive or negative — to share their stories, offering a “way of getting closure,” if that’s what they needed.
Although his experiences have made him an expert of sorts, Ferrier says “Tickled” really “could have been about any number of things.” For Ferrier, it’s most importantly “a story about power and control.”
IF YOU GO
Starring David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, Richard Ivey
Directed by David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes