GoFundMe Set Up for Ailing ‘Tarnation’ Director Jonathan Caouette’s Medical Expenses

Producer Marie Therese Guirgis shared that Caouette is in need of multiple dental procedures due to a "devastating infection" and chronic condition.
Jonathan Caouette
Jonathan Caouette
Courtesy of GoFundMe

Jonathan Caouette, the visionary documentarian behind movie memoir “Tarnation,” is currently seeking donations for medical treatment.

In a GoFundMe page set up by producers Marie Therese Guirgis, John Cameron Mitchell, Gus Van Sant, and Stephen Winter, Caouette’s chronic condition has been detailed.

“Over the last several years Jonathan’s health has taken a very bad turn,” Guirgis wrote. “He’s had a very serious and devastating infection that’s compromised all of his teeth, as well as several other serious and worrying chronic illnesses. Jonathan has spent the last few years in and out of the hospital, seen countless doctors, and received a great deal of medical treatment. Besides the excruciating physical pain and accompanying mental anguish, the loss of Jonathan’s teeth and the brutal infection in his mouth has meant that he’s been unable to work or even really leave the house. He’s had to turn down work opportunities and paid speaking engagements/appearances. Bluntly, he’s had no income for a long while and mounting medical bills.”

Caouette has received multiple mouth and dental surgeries in Colombia, including the replacement of failed dental implants; however, Guirgis noted that it would be a “very long and painful process that involves extended periods of healing between surgeries and constant medical supervision” due to Caouette’s “genetic condition” which places him at high-risk of infection.

Guirgis added, “The original ‘Tarnation’ team has come together to raise money for Jonathan’s crucial surgeries and medical care, his outstanding medical bills, and his living expenses while he undergoes this long and delicate process of recovery in another country. Our fundraising goal reflects a very careful calculation of future surgery and doctors’ bills, past medical bills, and living expenses during recovery. We want Jonathan to be healthy and able to be out in the world, enjoying the company of his many friends, working to support himself, and sharing his singular and beautiful vision with all of us for many years to come.”

The page has currently raised $15,936 at the time of print, with a goal of $63,000 total. The caption is signed by “Marie Therese, Stephen, Brian, JCM, Gus, and Ryan,” of Stephen Winter, Brian Kates, John Cameron Mitchell, and Gus Van Sant, all supporters of the 2004 documentary “Tarnation” in which Caouette captured his mother’s mental illness and the affect on his own psyche.

“As some of you know, 20 years ago next year I started working with Jonathan Caouette on the distribution of his groundbreaking, landmark documentary ‘Tarnation,'” Guirgis added. “My former colleague Ryan Werner and I fell in love with the version of ‘Tarnation’ we saw at Sundance in 2004 and one of the greatest creative and professional experiences of our careers was born. Also born back in January 2004 was a long and caring friendship with Jonathan, who’s faced an enormous number of truly harrowing challenges in his life. Anyone who’s seen ‘Tarnation’ has a small idea of the massive challenges and overwhelming pressures he’s faced and borne during his entire life.”

“Tarnation” was assembled for a total of $200 using years of home videos of Caouette and his mother, Renee, whose modeling career was cut short by an accident. Renee underwent shock therapy as a result, while Caouette later moves in with his grandparents in Houston before relocating to New York City and coming to terms with his sexuality.

As IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote, “Each development in Caouette’s life drifts through the narrative with delicate, unpredictable rhythms, as if following the organic flow of the filmmaker’s own tortured memory banks. Caouette proved to be a remarkable film diarist from a young age, and the movie chronicles his maturation process through revealing first-person addresses as his personality slowly accumulates – both flamboyant and tough, a gay theater nerd with dark inner demons threatening to topple his quest for a stable new life. All the while, Renee remains his loyal follower, as her tragic story both pushes him to improve his surroundings and forces him to grapple with his grim family history.”

Kohn added, “‘Tarnation’ eventually becomes the story of one man reconciling his past with his present, while his bold editing style puts us in the thick of that tumultuous process.”

Caouette helmed later documentary “Walk Away Renee” about his mother, and co-directed “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” His most recent work was a 2019 music video for musician Nyles Lannon (formerly known as N. Lannon) also using archival footage.

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