“Tontine” (TBD) is a found footage satirical docu-thriller written and directed by Ezna Sands. Comparable to popular television shows such as “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race”, Tontine presents itself in a similar manner, offering 15 contestants a chance to compete in a reality game show, where the winner will take home a prize of $10 Million. The big catch is, instead of the network paying the prize money, the $10 Million fortune will collectively be the fifteen contestants’ life savings. Having already set the stakes unprecedentedly high, an act of God throws the contestants into an unimaginable scenario just before the show begins. Through the title displayed text, viewers learn that; “In December, 2007, Tropical Cyclone Damon tore through the Fijian islands. During the storm, a boat carrying contestants of the reality show, “Tontine” shipwrecked on an unknown island. They were missing for nearly 78 hours. Using cameras salvaged from the wreckage, the survivors documented their experience. The film has been prepared as a part of a court-ordered investigation into the events surrounding the show’s production.”
tontine (plural tontines) (finance, insurance) A form of investment in which, on the death of an investor, his share is divided amongst the other investors.
Found Footage Cinematography
Tontine utilizes a variety of cameras and styles to deliver the narrative. From authentic broadcast news and ‘would be” contestant audition clips, to professional interviews of the contestants prior to the reality game’s shows launch, to helicopter aerials of the wreckage’s brutal aftermath and even a filmed deposition of one of Tontine’s producers, it’s the classic video camcorder that eventually becomes the film’s “weapon of choice”, cleverly displaying the primary perspective of the narrative, not just once but three times, in an homage to Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”. This is accounted for early on in a cruel act of irony, after the production team’s camera equipment ends up being one of the only things to wash ashore. Noticeable artifact glitching and sound drop outs follow, justified by the water damage that must have occurred during its transit. At times it’s a technical marvel, the use of casual camera drops and skillfully choreographed action giving glimpses into what might be occurring. We have seen these techniques since (I would say “before”, but this was made long ahead of many of its counterparts), but not quite with this verisimilitude.
The reason for filming always comes to the forefront when gauging authenticity in found footage movies. Tontine justifies its reason for filming in mostly credible ways; foremost by the reality contestants themselves who decide to document their survival experience, including a survivor’s last will and testament. Additionally, important context of how this reality show could have ended in such a disaster is guided by legal deposition footage from one of Tontine’s producers which adds believability to the film’s ‘as part of a court ordered investigation’ framing. Due to the film’s large cast ensemble it occasionally becomes unclear at times who is actually capturing the sequence of events behind the camera. Yet for the most part, the film effectively connects the narrative dots, while the inclusion of testimonial interviews intercut throughout often add additional poignancy or irony to events as they unfold.
Found Footage Purity
After a nationwide casting tour for the reality show Tontine concluded in 2007 with an incident at the San Diego auditions, showing an altercation captured on camera, involving a heckler and show host, Rob Mariano (playing himself, who was a real-life contestant on the television show, “Survivor”), many fans have theorized over the events that had taken place. Was Tontine a real game show meant to air on television or an elaborately staged marketing strategy to promote a film?
With the full mystery still yet unknown, one thing can be made certain, that this ingenious approach delves just as deep and intricate as some of the most iconic found footage movies, remembering such works as the “Cloverfield” (2008) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) campaigns. From the realistic legal deposition that can be found publicly online to the copious amounts of real press including morning shows, radio interviews, newspaper articles to the thousands of real-life participants who auditioned to be on the show, it becomes evident that the creators behind Tontine have successfully built a unique world, one which still breathes a life of its own now all these years later.
Despite its large cast size, each of the characters hold their own weight when it comes to a collective performance. Their unique personalities shine through their testimonial interviews as well as their psychological downfall while isolated on a deserted island. Their descent into madness becomes gripping, not only from the carnage taking place, but also from a purely logical perspective. For instance, as part of the show’s stakes and set up, the keys around each of their necks open a safety deposit box containing their individual (liquidated) net worth and the object of the game was to collect everyone else’s keys to unlock the combined net worth of all the contestants, the $10 Million grand prize. Despite the dire situation they find themselves in, the keys, at least to some of the contestants, still appear to be of the utmost importance and it becomes apparent that they will stop at nothing to see this game through to its bloody uproarious conclusion.
From a storytelling sense, Tontine exhibits a very unique plot line, taking its elements of the narrative into the broader perspective of Reality TV “Gone Wrong” – showing a healthy balance between both the survivors point of view, as well as the point of view of the producers orchestrating the game show, or even after its tragic demise, them being interrogated. Yet in true Lord of the Flies like fashion, the film also eloquently details the real fear behind what being stranded on an uninhabited island must look and/or feel like. For nearly 16 years, Tontine fans have been yearning over the picture’s long awaited release. Well rest assured, having recently surfaced with a special screening at the 2023 Unnamed Footage Festival (UFF666), the filmmakers in attendance hinted at a promising future ahead.