All-night movie marathon separates weak from buffs

AUCKLAND'S annual 24-Hour Film Marathon, devised by New Zealand's genre film guru Ant Timpson, is not for the faint of heart. Celebrating 13 years of operation, this year's event was dubbed ''The Unlucky 13th'', with a staunch selection of horror, sleaze, art and guilty pleasure gems.

The film selection each year is top secret; no one knows what is playing until the film's opening title appears on screen. To further the secrecy, audience members are encouraged to refrain from divulging the program publicly, giving those who survive the event a sense of Masonic camaraderie. A rigid policy to screen each title on archival 35mm film is also a tradition.

Attracting 200 admissions this year, the event is held at the single-screen Hollywood Cinema on the fringe of Auckland's CBD. Walking into the auditorium, it was clear that I had been initiated into a secret cinema sect. Patrons arrive dressed in bathrobes and pyjamas, armed to the teeth with sugary ammunition to keep them vitalised through the night. I felt like a soldier on the frontline of a cinematic war zone; ensconced in an endurance test for true filmic believers and those not afraid of a vitamin D deficiency.

I was informed by a veteran marathon attendee that, ''What happens at the 'Thon stays at the 'Thon'', which is comforting after I admit my adoration for the early works of Jean-Claude Van Damme.

A severe outbreak of heavy eyelid disorder occurs at 5am, infecting half the audience. I am spared thanks to an emergency dose of jelly snakes. The screening of a 2½-hour Russian existentialist film before breakfast breaks the crowd into two factions - art film and anti-art film. Only those armed with a ''semiotics in cinema'' survival guide had any chance of making it out alive. Post-film peace talks were had over breakfast burritos. Around the 16th hour, aromas of body odour and popcorn begin to emerge and the male bathroom becomes scarier than any horror film creature.

As the final reel fades, we emerged from our cinematic tombs into the blistering afternoon sun. Some people hug goodbye, while others offer handshakes but each leave knowing their cinema karma is intact and the secret order of the movie marathon is safe for another year.

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