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A debut feature 19 years in the making, Jonathan Caouette’s “brutal and spellbinding musical-docudrama” Tarnation premiered as a rough cut at Mix 2003 and screens in the Frontier section of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. (Tarnation was substantially reedited following its debut at Mix, and is tipped for the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes following its screening in Park City.)

As per the Mix Festival’s write-up: “Tarnation weaves a psychotronic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, old answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, snippets of ’80s camp pop culture and dramatic reenactments drawn from Caouette’s entire life.”

“It’s kind of a fucked-up genius documentary/drama,” says John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angy Inch), who signed on as an editorial consultant after seeing an early version of the film. “[Jonathan] sent in an audition tape for my latest film that incorporated footage from Tarnation and it blew me away,” says Mitchell. “He’s been documenting his life with his beautiful, tragic, schizophrenic mom since he was 10 and this film is the incredible result. Example of a typical scene: a video diary entry of Jonathan at 11 in drag as his mother talking to the camera about being beaten up by her new boyfriend. He’s been working on the film for many years and it was made on Apple’s iMovie (editing, effects, sound & mix!) for about 200 bucks and change. He lives with his mom and boyfriend in Queens, New York now and has been supporting them — as well as a son from a former marriage — as a 5th Ave. boutique doorman. He had to quit to edit and is hoping they’ll take him back (they have a good health plan).”

“I think Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation is the shit,” adds Gus Van Sant, the film’s executive producer. “I have always been waiting to see someone make something as moving as Jonathan’s film with as little as he has had to make it. I knew something like this would appear, and I am glad that is has finally has.”

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