$200 Family Film is Festival Hit Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent Tuesday May 18, 2004 The Guardian Link The surprise hit of the Cannes film festival is a movie made by a first-time director with a budget of precisely $218.32. Tarnation was created by 31-year-old jobbing actor Jonathan Caouette, using the Apple Macintosh package iMovie. It is a touching and often disturbing family history pieced together via photographs, home movie images from the 1970s and 80s, and interviews by Caouette with his mother and grandparents. The film, part of the directors' fortnight section of the festival, received a standing ovation. The budget was spent on 10 tapes for Caouette's video camera and a pair of angel wings. The latter are used in a scene recreating a play Caouette directed at school - a musical version of David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Much of the film revolves around Caouette's mother, who was beaten by her husband, raped in front of her son when he was a baby, and endured endless bouts of electric-shock therapy which left her personality altered. Much of her adult life was spent in hospitals, and Caouette was raised by his grandparents in Houston, frequently filming himself and his family from the age of 11. Living in New York as an adult, he acquired a computer, digitised much of this early footage, and started to "put together stuff, montages and so on. It was very impressionistic." Then his mother took an overdose of lithium which led to brain damage. His grandfather, suffering from Alzheimer's, was unable to care for her, so Caouette brought her to New York and nursed her - continuing to film all the while. One day he showed some of his material to a friend of a friend who worked at a New York gay and lesbian film festival. "He said, 'You should put a beginning and an end on this, make it a little more linear, and submit it to the festival.' The kick up the butt that got it finished was that I had a deadline of three weeks." He described making the film as "cathartic - an exorcism". After its successful New York premiere the director Gus Van Sant came in as executive producer, and the film was shown at the Sundance film festival in the US before being programmed at Cannes. "Making a movie is not as difficult as it is made out to be," said Caouette. "Hopefully this will be a catalyst for people who didn't have a voice before to go out and make a movie." A US distribution deal for Tarnation has been struck, and a UK deal is expected shortly.