After reading Peaslee et al.’s (2014) discussion on media festival volunteers, I am looking at my role as a volunteer at Melbourne International Film Festival in relation to the concept of ‘on-ground fan labour’. The opportunity to volunteer with Australia’s largest and longest-running festival presented itself just as I was looking to get more involved with, and immerse myself in the media industries in a major creative city.
It was only after attending the competitive volunteer recruitment group interview that I became truly aware of not only the huge scope of the festival, but also the crucial role that volunteers play in its operation. I have been astounded at the dedication of the volunteers, who give up their time to: commute to multiple venues around the Melbourne CBD, accept 5 hour volunteer shifts 2 hours before they start, stand in the rain scanning tickets, patiently listen to patrons with unreasonable requests (e.g. “would you please ask that man in the best seat in the cinema to swap with me? I can’t see the screen” *half an hour into the film), and witness some interesting scenes (e.g. 2 patrons involved in a fistfight over a seat at the Forum Theatre). Being one of these dedicated people, I can confirm that it is worth it.As a film fan, I have tremendously enjoyed the perks that come with volunteering. With an admit 1 ticket received for every volunteering shift completed, I was able to see a variety of high quality films from all over the world, free of charge. Even more films were viewed on shift, while ‘working’ as an usher inside the theatres. My experiences, which I’m sure echo the experiences of other volunteers at MIFF, resonate strongly with Bourdieu’s suggestion that fan labour facilitates an acquisition of social capital. The idea of gaining gratification through working with strangers, guided by common values, is one I can wholeheartedly relate to. I have met a number of people with shared interests and goals with whom I have bonded over a unique, enjoyable experience, which, I would say facilitated trust and what Putnam (2000) calls ‘civic engagement’.
I, as well as other volunteers I met, seem to fit in both the categories of ‘fan labourer’ and traditional volunteer. While we have valued the networking, personal growth and free ‘cultural capital’ gained from viewing the films, there is no doubt that many volunteers are motivated by a strong sense of altruism. Like Peaslee et al. (2014) suggest of volunteering at Fantastic Fest, while volunteering at MIFF promotes the accumulation of social capital, it ‘simultaneously encourages communities to provide unpaid, on-ground labour to the industries of which volunteers one day hope to be a part of’. From my perspective, the use of volunteers at major festivals is mutually beneficial. I have spent my free time assisting with the running of MIFF events and screenings, while learning a tremendous amount about an industry I am now even more eager to work in.
By Stephanie Ford
Bourdieu, Pierre 1986. “The Forms of Capital.” In Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, John G. Richardson (ed), pp. 241–58. New York: Greenwood.
Peaslee RM, El-Khoury J, Liles A 2014, ‘The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor’, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15.
Putnam, RD 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.