What I find striking about this week’s “Tarnation” deal is the fact the film, which debuted last year at MIX, the experimental queer fest in downtown New York, is succeeding on the basis of word-of-mouth generated on the festival circuit. In fact, with the strength of the film’s Sundance buzz, Wellspring took notice and company execs were not daunted by the fact that the film was still in a digital format (they would have to pay for a blow-up) and it also required additional money to clear music rights. The film’s rave notices from critics at Sundance and the subsequent invitation to screen in Cannes set it up as an indie title worth investing in. Sadly, were it not for that attention, I doubt any buyer would have been bold enough to take the risk.
I was stunned by the movie when I watched it on videotape shortly before its Sundance debut. While some have trouble defining it, it is clearly a highly personal documentary that offers a window into a fascinating family, and more specifically it is the story of a boy and his mom. Caouette began gathering footage of his life 20 years ago, and just over a year ago started assembling it into a film. Hedwig’s John Cameron Mitchell and filmmaker Gus Van Sant caught wind and they, along with New York producer Stephen Winter, would shepherd it to Sundance, along with publicist/insider Mickey Cottrell. [He and co-conspirator Jonny Leahan both insisted that I see it.]
Caouette may have only spent about $200 to make the movie, but like some of the best indie filmmakers, he risked so much more by investing himself wholeheartedly into a work that exposes his own life and experiences in such moving way. I’ve invited the “Tarnation” team to blog about their upcoming experiences here at indieWIRE, here’s hoping they agree!