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Tarnation, award-winning documentary directed by Houston filmmaker, Jonathan Caouette

Friday Nov 2
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

TALK-BACK WITH FILMMAKER, Jonathan Caouette after screening!!!

Jonathan Caouette’s spellbinding debut TARNATION re-imagines the whole idea of what a documentary can be.

Caouette has been documenting his life since he was eleven years old. With TARNATION, he weaves a psychedelic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, snippets of 80s pop culture and dramatic reenactments to create an epic portrait of an American family torn apart by dysfunction and reunited through the power of love.
TARNATION begins in 2003 as Caouette learns of his mother’s lithium overdose in his native Texas. Faced with the haunting remnants of his past, including a family legacy of mental illness, abuse, and neglect, Caouette returns home to aid in his mother’s recovery. Slipping back into the archives of his youth, we watch Caouette grow up on camera, seeking escape from family trauma through musical theater, grade-B horror flicks and the forging of his identity through popular culture.

Having relocated to New York in his twenties and subsequently attaining peace in the form of a supportive mate, Caouette discovers that family ties are never truly unbound. He rekindles a touching relationship with another victim of a tumultuous childhood - his own mother Renee.


I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, where I grew up mostly with my grandparents while my mother Renee was in and out of hospitals dealing with her mental illness. I also spent time in the foster care system, where I experienced a great deal of neglect and abuse.

Filmmaking for me became a means of disassociation and escape. By picking up a camera when I was a kid, I found a way to survive the life I was enduring. I used the camera as a weapon, a shield and a way to illuminate how I was feeling about everything. Filming things was a way of talking to myself. When I was 8, other kids were outside playing football or hackey-sack; I was inside writing a rock opera or storyboarding a movie I had just seen. My idea of a good time was sticking a camera in my grandma's face and asking her about her life.
TARNATION is a film about youth, art, sexuality, mental illness, America and survival. It’s also a love letter to my mother Renee, and to all mothers everywhere. 


"Remarkable. TARNATION is a powerful and heartbreaking film. Caouette shows himself to be a documentarian of rare skill.” – Roger Ebert 

"I feel transcendence in reality, watching TARNATION, in which Jonathan Caouette takes a deathless swan dive into the fractured memories of his strange, tormented, beautiful life...” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly 

"An exuberantly personal work smeared with lipstick traces from the likes of David Lynch and avant-garde legend Jack Smith that recounts the filmmaker's life with and without his disturbed mother." – Manohla Dargis, LA Times 

“A whirlwind journey through filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s Southern Gothis life. Painfully self-revealing but never self-indulgent. TARNATION ultimately coheres into a remarkable affirmation of a son’s enduring love for his broken mother.”
– David Ansen, Newsweek 

“Always compelling. A swirling digital vortex to chronicle its maker’s passage from childhood turmoil and teenage acting out to eventual psychic survival. The 18 video has a directness and a wrenching emotional force. You know the filmmaker means every frame and that his very identity is on the line.”
– Gavin Smith, Film Comment 

“Once in a blue moon, a picture shows up at a festival that busts our ways of looking at cinema wide open. That this should happen this year at Sundance, and – get this – by way of a young somebody’s first feature -is something of a miracle. TARNATION is a fever dream of sorts. It crosses and re-crosses the line between high art and bad acid trip, between sordid confession and life- affirming revelation, so many times that those distinctions soon cease to matter."
– Ron Stringer, LA Weekly (Film Editor) 

"An electrifying first film. TARNATION is a mesmerizing rock-and-read memoir."
– Jan Stuart, Newsday 

"A flat-out masterpiec. TARNATION is the cinematic shit."
– Tim Appelo, Seattle Weekly (Film Editor) 

"Jonathan Caouette's brutal and spellbinding debut is breathtaking and establishes Caouette as a cinematic visionary to reckon with. A dazzling display of energy and visual splendor, TARNATION is a raw and sensual masterpiece."
– Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Programmer 


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