To follow or not to follow? That is the question.
At the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) screening of Algerian director Asri Bendacha’s documentary Follow Me, a small crowd formed outside the Diff365 theatre in Vox Cinema. Bendacha arrived fashionably late, armed with his backpack, camera and a GoPro.
Bendacha lived most of his life in a little city called Avignon, where he says “there is nothing”. But his film explores the definition and process of becoming an influencer on social media. The journey starts in Dubai where Bendacha interviews Middle Eastern social media stars and various companies. He travels the world with stints in California’s infamous tech superpower Silicon Valley, taking his yellow bike from city to city, trying to get into the Facebook headquarters and finally, heading back to Dubai.
The filmmaker started his career as a producer on radio and slowly progressed to making music videos for rappers such as Sniper, Keny Arkana, Soprano, Rohff and La Fouine.
“I was broke and looking for a job on LinkedIn when I stumbled upon an article about a social media influencer who makes 5k per picture,” he said, of how his career as a filmmaker started.
Bendacha felt the only way to become a social media influencer is to film one’s own life. And so, he created his first Instagram account called “Follow me”, filming on the street while asking people to follow him. His project was soon picked up by a producer.
The film also shows the negative aspects of social media. At some point he gets an interview with a lawyer who helped create a condensed and comprehensive version of the terms and conditions for Instagram. As much as we are social creatures, it may be the case we are also lazy creatures, and we tend to agree to terms which we have not made ourselves aware of, he finds out. He also tackles the ethical questions of how free social media really is.
“If you’re nothing in the online world, you’re nothing in the real world”, said Bendacha. “The more likes you get, the better you feel, they’re just a way to fill in the gap of dissatisfaction.”
— The Young Journalist Award (YJA) at Diff is a training programme for high school and university students who are aspiring writers and reporters. Seven students are competing at the festival this year. One winner will secure a monthlong internship with Gulf News.