Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of movies tackle the almighty music festival – Taking Woodstock, Bridget Jones’ Baby, Wayne’s World 2 – but few have succeeded in bottling the crackling energy, atmosphere and culture that make festivals an integral part of our makeup as music lovers.
Sydney filmmaker Macario ‘Mac’ De Souza thinks he knows why. “They’re usually made by older writers or directors reminiscing on their younger days,” he tells NME, “or by people who haven’t actually done their time in the music space.”
De Souza is none of those things. The 39-year-old filmmaker – who is also a rapper going by Kid Mac – has made his narrative feature debut with 6 Festivals, about three teens and their coming-of-age journeys. Their stories may be fictional, but the music festivals they’re backdropped by aren’t: The plot plays out among actual concertgoers watching actual artists play their actual sets, resulting in a refreshing flip of the traditional ‘docudrama’ concept.
6 Festivals did have to stage their own “festival” in Canberra to shoot scenes with dialogue, but every performance seen in the film, from Dope Lemon getting groovy at Yours & Owls to Kwame cutting sick at Big Pineapple, was pulled straight from a real event. “That was my one non-negotiable demand,” Mac says. “Any live performance had to be taken right from the source. It made the entire thing super challenging to make, but y’know, you really can’t cheat 5,000 people singing along to the Dune Rats.”
Mac’s ambition to shoot onsite at these events came with enormous risks. As anyone that’s ever been to a music festival will know, nothing ever goes 100 per cent according to plan: unpredictable weather, technical difficulties, artists running late and others dropping out at the 11th hour… Add in the complexities of filming a motion picture, and you’ve got a mental breakdown waiting to happen.
But as a seasoned documentarian – hit award-winning hits including the Russell Crowe-narrated Bra Boys (2007) and Joel Edgerton-narrated Fighting Fear (2011) – Mac was able to roll with the myriad punches he was thrown.
“Putting those coming-of-age moments against the backdrop of all these amazing festivals, it just makes it so available and applicable to what so many kids are going through” – Ruby Fields
“I knew that going into such a loose environment,” he says, “you would just get frustrated if you had a structural plan like you would with a normal film. But having the background that I do meant I was able to go, ‘OK, cool, that idea isn’t gonna work because that’s not where we thought the sun was gonna be,’ or, ‘OK, this artist’s set just got pushed back so we can’t shoot there anymore – let’s think on our feet, what can we do instead?’”
That attitude gave 6 Festivals some of its most significant scenes. In one, the cancer-stricken James (played by Rory Potter) finds himself invited onstage by Dune Rats midway through their set at last year’s Big Pineapple, where he joins them on guitar to play ‘Scott Green’. It’s an energised, slightly chaotic moment in the film, which does wonders in galvanising its authenticity. But as Mac explains, it was not part of the script; James was originally going to crowdsurf, but the festival’s COVID-19 restrictions forbade it at the last minute.
“We were scratching our heads trying to work out what we could do instead,” he says, “and one of the Dunies went, ‘Man, we had this one time where this kid was sick so he watched the show side-of-stage, and we invited him out to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with us and the crowd went off.’ And I was like, ‘That’s a fucking sick idea!’ We had one take of that – we had seven cameras running, the crowd was going mental, and it just felt so surreal.”
That’s just one of a few cases where Dune Rats’ input was instrumental to 6 Festivals. Another was the casting of Ruby Fields, whose festival set soundtracks an equally pivotal scene for the character Maxie (Rasmus King). In 6 Festivals, Maxie reckons with an abusive, drug-crazed older brother (Kane, played by King’s real-life brother Kyuss) who pushes him to the brink of self-destruction. Maxie’s arc comes to a head with the film’s darkest and most sobering moment, where – without spoiling too much – his innocence is permanently shattered. In the distance, Fields can be heard delivering a powerfully raw performance of ‘Dinosaurs’, a song about her own reckoning with childhood demons.
When Mac first pitched the scene to her, Fields says, “it just felt so personal. And putting those coming-of-age moments against the backdrop of all these amazing festivals, it just makes it so available and applicable to what so many kids are going through, and what I went through – and am still going through in many ways. So when I saw it all on the screen, that really impacted me in a big way.”
“I watched like 20 movies and listened to Hans Zimmer scores to try to wrap my head around [scoring 6 Festivals]” – BLESSED
In order to make 6 Festivals feel as genuine as possible, Mac convened with artists at every step of the process. Alongside James and Maxie, our lead ensemble is rounded out by Summer (Yasmin Honeychurch), a budding Indigenous singer-songwriter who finds a mentor in her once-estranged older cousin, up-and-coming rapper Marley (Guyala Bayles). The latter’s arc was partially inspired by Mac’s own journey as an artist in Sydney’s burgeoning rap scene, but he admits that he never really had “the raw hip-hop swag” that Marley needed to have. That’s where B Wise came in to advise Mac and Bayles on “how she would potentially move onstage and how she would deliver lines”.
One of Summer and Marley’s own pivotal scenes is set in a recording studio, where BLESSED cameos as a laidback, fly-on-the-wall producer. It’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to the role the Ghanaian-born, Sydney-based rapper played behind the scenes of 6 Festivals: composing 23 pieces of original music for its score.
“I loved the challenge, just trying something new and expanding my creative horizons,” he says of the experience. “I make emotive music for the ears, but to match that with a visual component, it’s like a whole ’nother world. I watched like 20 movies and listened to Hans Zimmer scores to try to wrap my head around it… It was challenging, but it’s something I’m really proud of. It was a vibe.”
Having just completed its run on the Australian film festival circuit, 6 Festivals will hit cinemas on August 11, before streaming on Paramount+ sometime later in the year. Mac hasn’t committed to a sequel just yet, though he has lots of ideas in mind. “I think Maxie and Summer’s stories are definitely unfinished,” he says, noting that he sees the most potential for their future arcs in an episodic format. The notion of a film centred on Marley’s journey has Mac beaming: “I would love to explore the story of an Indigenous artist on the rise with a baby in hand,” he says, “touring the world and seeing what could come from that.”
Another potential spin-off, which would take a much less serious route, is “a Wayne’s World-esque comedy” that follows Dune Rats on their own insane adventure. Fields would co-star – “they’ve always been like brothers to me, so I’d love to be a part of that,” she chuckles – and bassist Brett Jansch thinks cameos would have to come from DZ Deathrays, Skeggs and Violent Soho.
“You really can’t cheat 5,000 people singing along to the Dune Rats” – Macario De Souza
“We’re always doing wacky, stupid shit in the tour van,” Jansch says, assuring NME that Mac would have no shortage of hilarious true stories to mine. “Maybe it would be like The Magic School Bus, and every time we try to get to a gig, there’s some crazy thing that gets in our way and we never actually make it there – but we have a whale of a time anyway! It could be like an Australian Spinal Tap… Or like Dude, Where’s My Bong?”
After working with Mac on 6 Festivals, Jansch, Fields and BLESSED say they’ve warmed up to idea of more film-adjacent projects – which, they all noted, was not the case a few years ago. There’s a good chance, too, that at least a handful of people will see 6 Festivals and be inspired to hit a Splendour, Groovin or Spilt Milk for themselves. And then, of course, they’ll fall in love with music festivals, and our fest-going community will welcome them in with open arms – a sentiment that lies at the heart of this movie.
“It’s a celebration,” Mac declares in closing. “It’s a celebration of Australian music and a celebration of Australian culture, which I hope will really resonate with a young audience that, for the first time in a long time, can see themselves represented authentically on the big screen. The key word throughout this entire five-year process for me has been authenticity. I hope it inspires them to chase their dreams – and tap their best friends on the shoulder and tell them how much they love them.”
6 Festivals is out in Australian cinemas on August 11. Find this story in the July 2022 issue of NME Australia magazine