Last updated

New Zealand theatrical release poster
Directed by David Farrier
Dylan Reeve
Produced by Carthew Neal
Narrated byDavid Farrier
CinematographyDominic Fryer
Edited bySimon Coldrick
A Ticklish Tale
Fumes Production
Horseshoe Films
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures (US)
Release date
  • May 27, 2016 (2016-05-27)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryNew Zealand
Box office$923,000 [1]

Tickled is a 2016 New Zealand documentary about "competitive endurance tickling" and videos featuring it, and the practices of those producing the videos, directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve. The film explores possible legal and ethical issues with certain individuals making the videos, and has itself been the subject of legal challenges. A follow-up special, The Tickle King, aired on HBO in February 2017. [2] [3]



David Farrier, a New Zealand television reporter whose beat focuses on "quirky and odd stories", [4] encounters online videos depicting "competitive endurance tickling", an activity in which young athletic men are restrained and tickled by each other. He begins to research it for a story and requests an interview with the videos' producer, Jane O'Brien Media. The company responds with a volatile email, refusing to "associate with a homosexual journalist" [5] , although Farrier is actually bisexual. [6] Farrier, bewildered at the hostile response, partners with television producer Dylan Reeve to dig deeper into the mysterious producers. [5]

After their initial blog posts about the story go viral, the duo receive legal threats from Jane O'Brien Media, who send Kevin Clarke and two other representatives to New Zealand to meet with them. Although their interactions are superficially cordial, the Jane O'Brien Media representatives bully the investigators to drop the project. Farrier and Reeve respond by following the representatives to Los Angeles to an apparent video recording location, but are turned away at the door.

Researching the phenomenon further, they uncover information about a person known as "Terri DiSisto" (alias "Terri Tickle"), who pioneered recruiting and distributing tickling videos online in the 1990s. They interview independent tickling-video producer Richard Ivey, whose operations are comparatively low-key, and also acknowledge a homoerotic aspect. Former participants in Jane O'Brien Media's videos describe coercive and manipulative treatment by the producers, such as defamation campaigns against them, exposing their personal information, and contacting associates to discredit them as homosexual or as sexual deviants, all in retaliation for speaking out against the company. A local recruiter in Muskegon, Michigan, describes "audition" videos he had helped make, which were published by O'Brien Media without the participants' consent.

Farrier and Reeve discover documents on a defunct tickling video web site, which link Jane O'Brien Media to David D'Amato, the former school administrator behind the "Terri Tickle" alias. They learn that D'Amato had served a six-month prison sentence for disabling computer systems at two different universities in retaliation against an 18-year-old male student who attempted to terminate an online relationship, which began when the young man was 17. [7] [8] They determine that D'Amato now lives on a substantial inheritance from his father, a successful lawyer. [9] After considerable effort to locate him, they confront him on the street, to which he responds with additional legal threats. Before returning to New Zealand, Farrier contacts D'Amato's stepmother for comment; she implicitly confirms her stepson's "tickling" past, and Farrier informs her that he believes D'Amato is still involved in it.


Under the working title Tickle King: The Hunt for the Truth in Competitive Tickling, Farrier and Reeve raised NZ$29,570 on Kickstarter in June 2014, intended primarily to cover the costs of the crew traveling to the United States for a week. [4] The project also received funding from the New Zealand Film Commission. [10]

The soundtrack includes music from Upstream Color by Shane Carruth.


The film was screened at the January 2016 Sundance Film Festival, after which Magnolia Pictures picked up distribution and HBO picked up US TV rights. [10] In March 2016 it was presented as part of the True/False Film Festival.

The film was released to New Zealand theaters on 27 May 2016. It was released by Magnolia Pictures to U.S. theaters on 17 June, and in Australia and the United Kingdom on 19 August.


Tickled has received critical acclaim. In a review headlined "fetish documentary goes from giggly to grim", Nigel Smith of The Guardian gives the movie four (of five) stars. [11] Dennis Harvey of Variety states the onscreen presence of the filmmakers "is justified because the harassment they experience in pursuing the story becomes a big part of its narrative". [12] The Salt Lake Tribune , giving it 4.5 stars, said it was "an act of journalistic courage" and that they "reveal the harm that can be done by an individual with a lot of money and a vindictive streak". [13] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times , giving it a Critic's Pick, said "Farrier and Mr. Reeve see the humor, but they also see the pathos—because it's all fun and giggles until someone gets hurt." [14] [15] Darian Lusk of the New York Observer wrote, "The shocking truth is uncomfortably pursued to its fullest, and the result is a riveting piece of investigative journalism." [16]

Armond White of Out magazine was critical of the movie, commenting that it "zips past its sexual aspects", and concluding that it is ultimately "frustrating, a blue-balls documentary". [17]

At Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 93% based on reviews from 106 critics. [18] Metacritic gives the film a score of 76 out of 100, based on reviews from 28 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews. [19]

Response from the documentary's subjects

After the premiere screening at Sundance, in March 2016, D'Amato filed a federal lawsuit against the filmmakers for making false accusations, including the implication that D'Amato used extortion and abused minors, and stating that D'Amato has no relationship with O'Brien Media. In response, Farrier told The Salt Lake Tribune that "given the number of hollow legal threats we faced during the making of it, it's almost refreshing to see a real case being filed by real lawyers." [20]

In June 2016, Kevin Clarke of O'Brien Media created a website to counter the documentary. [21]

D'Amato attended the 18 June 2016 screening at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles, and confronted Dylan Reeve, saying, "You need to lawyer up. You need to get criminal counsel." Clarke argued with Reeve during a public question-and-answer session after the film, saying "The film is a piece of garbage full of lies. Release the audio tapes that show you're lying. And if you don't release it, it's the same as admitting you're lying." [22]

D'Amato filed a $40 million defamation and slander lawsuit in Nassau County court alleging that his stepmother Dorothy D'Amato made statements in the film with the intention to injure his business, causing mental distress. [23]

D'Amato died at age 55, on 13 March 2017. [24] The filmmakers posted a statement on their web site that they were "incredibly sad" to learn of it, and asking that his death be treated with respect. [25]

Related Research Articles

<i>Magnolia</i> (film) 1999 film by Paul Thomas Anderson

Magnolia is a 1999 American epic psychological drama film written, directed and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson. It stars an ensemble cast, including Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards and Melora Walters. The film has a mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness and meaning in the San Fernando Valley. The script was inspired by the music of Aimee Mann, who contributed several songs to its soundtrack.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shane Carruth</span> American film producer, actor, screenwriter (born 1972)

Shane Carruth is an American filmmaker, screenwriter, composer, and actor. He is the writer, director, and co-star of the prize-winning science-fiction film Primer (2004), which was his debut feature. His second film, Upstream Color (2013), was an experimental science-fiction film which he wrote, directed, produced, edited, designed, and starred in. He also composed the scores for both films. In recognition of Carruth's idiosyncratic and, at times, bizarre filmmaking technique, director Steven Soderbergh told Entertainment Weekly, "I view Shane as the illegitimate offspring of David Lynch and James Cameron."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sundance Film Festival</span> Annual film festival held in Utah, United States

The Sundance Film Festival is an annual film festival organized by the Sundance Institute. It is the largest independent film festival in the United States, with more than 46,660 attending in 2016. It takes place each January in Park City, Utah; Salt Lake City, Utah; and at the Sundance Resort, and acts as a showcase for new work from American and international independent filmmakers. The festival consists of competitive sections for American and international dramatic and documentary films, both feature films and short films, and a group of out-of-competition sections, including NEXT, New Frontier, Spotlight, Midnight, Sundance Kids, From the Collection, Premieres, and Documentary Premieres. Many films premiering at Sundance have gone on to be nominated and win Oscars such as Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Tia Lessin is an American documentary filmmaker. Lessin has produced and directed documentaries and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Documentary.

Carthew Neal is an Academy nominated film, television and interactive producer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dylan O'Brien</span> American actor (born 1991)

Dylan Rhodes O'Brien is an American actor. His first major role was Stiles Stilinski on the MTV supernatural drama Teen Wolf (2011–2017), where he was a series regular during all six seasons. He achieved further prominence for his lead role of Thomas in the Maze Runner science fiction film trilogy (2014–2018), which led to more film appearances. He played Deepwater Horizon explosion survivor Caleb Holloway in the disaster film Deepwater Horizon (2016), fictional counterterrorist Mitch Rapp in the action thriller American Assassin (2017), and title character in the Transformers installment Bumblebee (2018). He also played the lead in the adventure film Love and Monsters (2020).

<i>The First Time</i> (2012 film) 2012 American film directed by Jon Kasdan

The First Time is a 2012 American teen romantic comedy film written and directed by Jon Kasdan, starring Britt Robertson, Dylan O'Brien, James Frecheville, and Victoria Justice.

Justin Pemberton is a documentary filmmaker based in New Zealand.

<i>Top of the Lake</i> Australian television series

Top of the Lake is a mystery drama television series created and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, and directed by Campion and Garth Davis. It aired in 2013, and the sequel, entitled Top of the Lake: China Girl, in 2017. It marks Campion's first work for television since An Angel at My Table in 1990.

<i>Life Itself</i> (2014 film) 2014 American film

Life Itself is a 2014 American biographical documentary film about Chicago film critic Roger Ebert, directed by Steve James and produced by Zak Piper, James and Garrett Basch. The film is based on Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was an official selection at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. The 41st Telluride Film Festival hosted a special screening of the film on August 28, 2014. Magnolia Pictures released the film theatrically in the United States and simultaneously via video on demand platforms on July 4, 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Farrier</span> New Zealand journalist and actor (born 1982)

David Andrew Farrier is a New Zealand journalist and actor. He has worked in news and documentary, including features on New Zealand television and co-directing the internationally distributed documentary film Tickled (2016). In 2018, he created the Netflix documentary series Dark Tourist, in which he visits obscure, peculiar, or dangerous tourist spots. He has also done some acting, most notably in the Rhys Darby mockumentary series Short Poppies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brett Morgen</span> American filmmaker

Brett D. Morgen is an American documentary filmmaker. His directorial credits include The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002), Crossfire Hurricane (2012), Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015), Jane (2017), and Moonage Daydream (2022).

<i>Tangerine</i> (film) 2015 film

Tangerine is a 2015 American comedy-drama film directed by Sean Baker, and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, and James Ransone. The story follows a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her. The film was shot with three iPhone 5S smartphones.

<i>Best of Enemies</i> (2015 film) 2015 American film

Best of Enemies is a 2015 American documentary film co-directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville about the televised debates between intellectuals Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. during the 1968 United States presidential election. The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It was acquired by Magnolia and Participant Media.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sabaah Folayan</span> American film maker

Sabaah Folayan is an American filmmaker and activist. Her debut documentary feature, Whose Streets?, on the 2014 Ferguson protests, premiered in competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

<i>Whose Streets?</i> 2017 American film

Whose Streets? is a 2017 American documentary film about the killing of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising. Directed by Sabaah Folayan and co-directed by Damon Davis, Whose Streets? premiered in competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, then was released theatrically in August, 2017, for the anniversary of Brown's death. It was a nominee for Critics' Choice and Gotham Independent Film awards.

<i>The Sparks Brothers</i> 2021 documentary film directed by Edgar Wright

The Sparks Brothers is a 2021 British-American documentary film about Ron and Russell Mael, members of the pop and rock duo Sparks. The film, directed by Edgar Wright, and produced by Wright, Nira Park, George Hencken and Laura Richardson, premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was theatrically released the following summer. It received critical acclaim.

<i>Becoming Mike Nichols</i> TV series or program

Becoming Mike Nichols is a 2016 documentary film directed by Douglas McGrath about the life of Mike Nichols. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 29, 2016, and was later broadcast on HBO on February 22, 2016.

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival took place from January 20 to 30, 2022. Due to COVID-19 pandemic protocol, it was initially intended to be an in-person/virtual hybrid festival, but on January 5, 2022, it was announced that the in-person components would be scrapped in favor of a wholly virtual festival due to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant. The first lineup of competition films was announced on December 9, 2021.

<i>Mister Organ</i> 2022 New Zealand documentary film

Mister Organ is a 2022 New Zealand documentary film by David Farrier, focusing on the life of Michael Organ, an enigmatic figure associated with an antiques store and car clamping business in Ponsonby, Auckland, and Farrier's attempts to learn more about his life.


  1. "Tickled". The Numbers. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  2. Tickled (27 June 2017), The Tickle King , retrieved 19 November 2017
  3. "Controversy surrounds 'Tickled' documentary". newsday.com. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  4. 1 2 "Project page on kickstarter".
  5. 1 2 "Is 'Tickled' Poised to Be the Next 'Catfish'?". hollywoodreporter.com. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  6. Perrott, Alan (6 June 2015). "Why David Farrier gave up med school for journalism". New Zealand Herald. ISSN   1170-0777 . Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  7. Brian McWilliams (2004). Spam Kings: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# Enlargements. O'Reilly. ISBN   978-0-596-00732-4.
  8. Scoblionkov, Deborah. "Who's Laughing Now?". mycitypaper.com. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  9. Earl, William (18 March 2017). "David D'Amato, the Villain of 'Tickled,' 'Died Suddenly' at Age 55". indiewire.com. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  10. 1 2 Sharf, Zack (31 January 2016). "Magnolia Pictures and HBO Pick Up Sundance Doc 'Tickled'". IndieWire . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  11. Smith, Nigel (8 March 2016). "Tickled review: fetish documentary goes from giggly to grim". The Guardian . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  12. Harvey, Dennis (24 January 2016). "'Tickled' Review: An Engrossing Investigative Doc". Variety . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  13. "Sundance '16 review: 'Tickled'". The Salt Lake Tribune . 30 January 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  14. Dargis, Manohla (16 June 2016). "Review: 'Tickled' Is Fun and Giggles Until It Isn't Anymore". The New York Times . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  15. "'Tickled': Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter . 24 January 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  16. "Weekend Stream: This Tickling Documentary and Its Even More Bizarre Follow-Up". New York Observer . 24 March 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  17. White, Armond (24 June 2016). "Sports Documentary 'Tickled' Exploits Fetishism and Gay Teasing". Out . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  18. "Tickled". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  19. "Tickled". Metacritic . Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  20. Manson, Pamela (11 March 2016). "Sundance film on 'competitive endurance tickling' is defamatory, suit alleges". The Salt Lake Tribune . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  21. Winfrey, Graham (23 May 2016). "'Tickled': Campaign Launched To Try To Discredit Provocative Competitive Tickling Documentary". IndieWire . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  22. Fagan, Josh (18 June 2016). "Tickled creator Dylan Reeve confronted by the subject of his documentary at premiere". Stuff.co.nz . Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  23. O'Sullivan, Michael (30 June 2016). "He made a movie about competitive tickling. But then things got truly weird". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  24. "Life after the Tickle King's death". The Spinoff. 19 June 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  25. "Tickled" . Retrieved 18 March 2017.