There’s an argument to be made that the film festival experience is inevitably tinged with an element of masochism. I’m not talking about the grab-a-coffee-with-your-mates-then-catch-the-matinee-showing-of-Past-Lives film festival experience. I’m talking about the create-a-spreadsheet-and-submit-yourself-to-a-rigorous-three-movie-a-day-schedule-and-diet-of-popcorn-and-kebabs film festival experience. The kind where your friends don’t see you for three weeks and strangers glance at you sideways in the street as you stumble from The Embassy to Lighthouse Cuba in a desperate attempt to make it in time for the final screening of Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. When you deprive yourself of sleep and proper sustenance for that long to squeeze in as many films over a twenty-day period as possible, the question must be raised over whether you’re doing this for the love of cinema or some kind of performative penance.
Anybody who has submitted themselves to such an experience will love to tell you how *gruelling* it was. “Oh man, I almost gave up but that Thursday night screening of How To Blow Up a Pipeline really gave me the energy to keep going”, they will say. “20 films down, only 17 more to go”, they will sigh dramatically, looking to you for the expected expression of both shock and reverence. It is important that you give them this expression, as while they say it is for the love of cinema, it is really much more for your approval and, more importantly, the recognition that they are, indeed, a bigger and more committed cinephile than you.
The rise of Letterboxd has only fuelled this trend of cinematic self-flagellation. Gazing out across the theatre as the lights came up on Anatomy of A Fall I saw a legion of devotees pull out their phones and make their sacred diary entries. You can be assured that many of your fellow festival-goers will be mentally building and sorting their ever-growing ranked lists in real time as you sit amongst them in that darkened auditorium, ready to publish as soon as the credits roll. Now their dedication to the cause can be certified and held aloft to a potential audience of millions, all thanks to our homegrown Facebook for Film Buffs.
Of course, I’m not here to cast any aspersions on this particularly torturous form of consumption. I myself grovel every year at the auteur altar, desperate to check off as many films as possible (33 this year), building an ever-growing list of recommendations (yes, you should definitely see Perfect Days) for anyone brave enough to approach me in my bleary-eyed state. Do not look away from us or keep your distance. Instead, I beseech you to treat those who inflict this pain upon themselves with kindness. Yes, it can be tiresome listening to yet another treatise on which political documentary is most essential this year but believe me when I say it is done not out of any form of condescension, but purely for your much-needed respect and approval. We humbly carry this cinematic cross through town, bearing the burden of our tattered ticket stubs for three weeks a year, so that everyone will recognise us for the true devotees that we are. So next time your friend tries to show you their NZIFF Tier List, don’t shrink from them. Just smile, nod, give them a pat on the shoulder or even a hug, and send them on their way safe in the knowledge that they have earned their place.