By Sam Peckett
As a US senator announces plans to break up a number technology giants – Facebook included – it seems the perfect time for Public Figure to premiere at MANIFF. The film, which shines a spotlight on the lives of a variety of social media influencers while examining the psychological effect of social media on society, is the directorial debut of Brian Corso.
Social media influencers are users with large follow counts, who, according to Pixlee, ‘can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach’. While recent Netflix documentary, Fyre, exploring the disastrous Fyre Festival, touches on the effect that influencers can have on marketing campaigns, Public Figure has dug deeper, making them its primary focus.
The film follows a variety of influencers, including Canadian fitness enthusiast Gregory O’Gallagher, photographer Emmett Sparling, lifestyle and fashion influencer Emma Rose, television personality Bonang Matheba and, perhaps most interestingly, professional meme-maker Sebastian Tribbie, aka @youvegotnomale.
Following their day-to-day lives, Public Figure peeks behind the glossy, Instagram-ready photos to see the reality of being an influencer – one of the film’s early scenes shows Tribbie waking up after a night out, somewhat confused to be on his sofa rather than in his bed. This is all enjoyable and interesting, and produces plenty of laugh out loud moments, but the film really gets fascinating once psychologists begin to discuss the effect of social media on its users. ‘Getting likes is akin to a hit, a drug,’ states one expert, explaining how brain functions when getting positive feedback on social media surprisingly closely mirror the dopamine-producing effects of cocaine.
The film states that approximately 210 million people are estimated to have social media addictions, with Sean Parker, Founding President of Facebook, saying that he doesn’t use social media anymore, as it’s ‘too much of a time-sink’. While some influencers, such as food bloggers and marketers Greg and Rebecca Remmy, state that it has allowed them to explore careers that previously wouldn’t have been possible, others reveal a darker side to the phenomenon.
“If I spend all day on my phone doing social media stuff, at the end of it I feel depressed,” explains fitness expert Gregory O’Gallagher, who has 474k subscribers on YouTube. He tells us he’s working on a plan to only use social media on his phone for 10 to 15 minutes a day. He hasn’t managed it yet.
The film really shines in its exploration both the good and the bad of Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Tribbie tells us he’s living the dream, constantly partying and earning good money making memes. He says he can’t even walk through Washington Square Park as he constantly gets stopped (he is emphatic about exactly how constant it is). It makes the film’s final shots especially poignant, as he walks through the park hassle-free, phone in hand. It serves as an important reminder of the discrepancy between what appearance and reality.
Corso and a variety of the featured influencers were present during the screening, answering audience questions and meeting movie-goers afterwards. MANIFF’s charm lies in its relaxed atmosphere, which allowed director, stars and viewers to enjoy the film together in the audience as one.