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Tarnation proves a surprise indie hit at Cannes

Preview by: Jack Foley

A FILM which cost just £124 ($218) to make turned into one of the surprise hits of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Tarnation, an autobiographical documentary, from director, Jonathan Caouette, received a standing ovation from audiences when it was screened for the second time at the festival, a move which reduced its young film-maker (and star) to tears.

The film in question chronicles Caouette’s life-story, from the time his mother required shock therapy, through to his own abuse while in foster care, and the worsening of his mother’s condition as a result of her ‘treatment’.

Canouette began filming himself and his family at the age of 11, during which he would also create movie fantasies for himself, as a means of escape.

The result is a movie which splices the home movie footage together to create what the BBC has hailed as ‘a moving and uncomfortable self-portrait’.

What’s all the more remarkable, however, is that Canouette did it using a home computer, with basic editing software, completing the film at a fraction of the price of a Hollywood blockbuster.


Needless to say, the 31-year-old star in the making was flabbergasted, not to mention humbled, by the reaction his film drew from the festival.

In an interview with BBC Online, he said: "It felt like a flash was going to go off and everything was going to freeze frame and credits were going to roll and I was going to wake up from some elongated dream that I've been having."

However, he remains tremendously proud of his achievements and said that the process of turning his life into a film was something he needed to go through - even though the process of editing it had brought back some extremely painful memories.

Tears were a common part of the process.

But his efforts were rewarded when acclaimed directors, Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting/Elephant), and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), came on board as executive producers, after liking the film so much.

As a result, the film’s reputation has simply grown and grown, particularly in light of its similar success at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, after which Caouette found himself being hugged by strangers who had been so moved by it. It played at Cannes as part of the prestigious Un Certain Regard section.

Needless to say, Canouette has subsequently become one of the festival’s hottest properties, and claims he has received several offers for future projects.

But he insists he will not ditch Tarnation’s style and insisted he would continue to be inspired by director’s such as Lars Von Trier in future.

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