A Conversation with David Farrier 

AS ANY JOURNO KNOWS, if an organisation puts up a half decent ‘talking head’ for an interview, that may be as far as the story goes. But if they start throwing around nasty language and legal threats over a mere query, it piques the journo's interest and makes them hyper curious. Film-maker David Farrier, known for his controversial and fascinating documentary Tickled knows first-hand how this little scenario works, as he follows clues and uncovers patterns to get to the truth.

Farrier came across a website offering young men flights, accommodation and money to take part in a competitive tickling scene in Los Angeles. A polite query was not only rebuffed with a public social media rant, it was followed by angry ticklers trying to make him go back into his box.

But with the rich material he was finding and a crowd-funding boost to travel to the States to gate crash a tickling competition, he and Dylan Reeve ended up making the much-feted Tickled, released last year. 

Farrier, who was head boy at conservative Bethlehem College in 2000 (“the year the world was meant to end”), now divides his time between Auckland and Los Angeles. He has a new project, which he cannot yet talk about. Who knows who he might be upsetting this time.

W.E. This issue we are looking at the surprising ways people literally and conceptually ‘connect-the-dots’. You have followed some pretty unusual connections yourself in your writing and documentary projects. What are some of the more curious discoveries you have inadvertently made over the years?

D.F. All the stories that have interested me the most are things I have stumbled onto. The events of Tickled are a perfect example – that was a rabbit hole that started after I left some Facebook comments on a strange page I found. That led to some bizarre, hateful feedback, which lead to me digging in further. Things just went from there. Sometimes connecting the dots is very purposeful: as a journalist it was part of my training from the get-go I think. But I also think that some of that “connecting” goes on in the background too, without you noticing it.

For instance I joined the Church of Scientology about 10 years ago to write an article about my experience. I guess for most people, that would be that. But my immersion in that religion – or cult, or whatever you want to call it – lead to other stories and other things I never would have dreamed of. I found myself being kicked out of their brand new Church just last month. Just one event leading to another event, which makes for another insight into how that particular organisation works.

Photo: Facebook

W.E Your investigation of Rihanna’s use of a hand-lettered graphic by Belgian designer Christophe Szpajdel was really left-field, but completely fascinating. What lead you down that road and were you surprised by the connections you made along the way?

D.F Again, that was a connecting the dots episode that was entirely out of my hands. Years ago I’d met a fascinating man named Christophe who was visiting New Zealand. He designed various death metal logos – a genre of music I’ve always enjoyed for various reasons – and he was doing an exhibition. His designs are beautiful to look at – many of the typefaces he’d create were based on nature – the bush and forests and so on, which goes back to some of the genre’s Scandinavian roots. Anyway – I saw a still image of Rihanna’s performance at the MTV Awards, and noticed her name rendered on this giant screen in a death metal style. And I just thought – Christophe! Except I couldn’t remember his name at the time, just his happy little face. I ended up tracking him down through that great stalking tool Facebook, and my hunch was right. It was him. He prides himself on sneaking in death metal references, in this case a reference to Brazilian metal band Sepultura – into the mainstream.

W.E We recently re-read your behind-the-scenes piece on attending Sundance Film Festival while promoting your documentary, Tickled. There were loads of similarities with big international art events like the Venice Biennale where you can feel a little like you are selling your soul for a few glasses of free champagne. What were your take-aways from that experience, and do you enjoy networking?

D.F No one enjoys networking. Well, maybe if you’re raised in L.A. culture you enjoy networking. No one else does. I guess networking somewhere like Sundance – where you are surrounded by amazing talent – makes it easier. Like – you’re not in a room full of idiots, these men and women are amazing and you are just lucky to be there. So it’s not so much selling your soul, as letting go of your ego and issues and just melting into the room and hoping to make some meaningful connections. And if not, there’s the free food, I suppose.

W.E. We hear you are a huge X-files fan. How has this influenced your film-making?

D.F I adore that show. I grew up with it. I feel it taught me a lot about storytelling (without me realising it) and keeping some mystery while you tell it. In a bigger sense, it helped inform my sense of the macabre growing up. There are some lasting images in my brain from that show. It helped spark my curiosity, which is really amazing for a TV show in the ‘90s!

W.E Who are your main filmic influences?

D.F I love documentaries – Dear Zachary, The Imposter, Capturing the Friedmans, Finders Keepers. All those deal with loss or death in some way. I like downbeat stuff. I want to feel something when I watch. As far as beautiful compositions go, I’m a huge fan of Shane Carruth. I have lost count of how many times I’ve watched Upstream Color. It’s just a beautiful piece of work.


WATCH (Tickled Trailer):