I have too many fears to be able to identify which is my ‘greatest fear’ (what’s so great about it anyway?). I’m terrified of snakes, deep water, heights, rejection, public humiliation, clowns, and of course, my inevitable death. So when I heard about the idea behind Stefan Hunt's upcoming festival, We're All Going To Die (WAGTD), I was all ears.
WAGTD is designed to help us reshape our relationship with fear and death, spinning the old and tired cliché of ‘living life to the fullest' and turning it into an immersive festival experience, or as Stefan puts it, “an amusement park for your soul.”
Based in Sydney, WAGTD boasts some pretty freakin' big deal humans including: Triple J's Tom Tilley, Vanessa Marian (Groove Therapy) and Mary Hoang, founder and head psychologist at the indigo project – to name just a few. We're super excited to kick our fears in the nuts (or to keep things gender neutral, kick our fears in the shins. Everyone has shins and getting kicked in the shins still fucking hurts).
We caught up with Stefan who told us a little about what we can expect from the festival, shared how he keeps his creative tank filled to the brim and, for reasons that remain unknown, we spoke a little about Mi Goreng.
Kate: If you had to describe the WAGTD festival in just three words, what would they be?
Stefan: Colourful, ridiculous, life-changing.
Kate: How did the idea for the festival eventuate?
Stefan: The entire project came from my own personal experiences. The back story is that I was going through a hard time when dealing with the ‘unknown’ and not knowing what the next chapter of my life looked like. It felt like everyone around me had a direction or purpose and I just felt a little bit lost. I was having panic attacks about it.
It turns out that so many young people feel like this, but I didn’t know that at the time. You look at Instagram and it seems like everyone has their shit figured out… It makes you think, “Oh man, why don’t I have my shit figured out yet?!”
Someone said that I should start writing because that’s a good way to get your feelings out, so I sat down, wrote a poem and the first five words were: 'We’re all going to die'. It sounds really morbid but it actually shifted my perspective. I looked at the words and thought, “Finally I’ve found something in life that’s certain and that is that we’re all going to die.” I felt this amazing lightness because no matter how hard I tried to internalise my decisions in life, none of them had guarantees. It was a life changing moment. I shared that poem with a few people and one friend said to me, “You need to share this message with the world. This is a really original take on inspiring young people.” That’s pretty much how the book, the short film and the festival came about.
Kate: I have to say, I haven’t spent much time thinking about the positive aspects of death before.
Stefan: I hadn't really thought about it either. There’s a whole society of people out there called ‘deathies’ and they’re really intrigued by talking about death. They become quite numb to the dark, morose nature of death that our society has created because, in their opinion, it’s not all negative. If you look at it in a different light, it’s the most positive thing ever because it just reminds you of your own mortality.
Without trying to sound like a cliché, it encourages you to go out there and follow your dreams. It’s all going to end one day and that’s what the project is about; empowering young people to live with less fear. Fear crippled my life for a period of time and when I came out of it I thought, “Screw this! I don’t want to live like that again and I don’t want other people to live like that.” I want to kick fear in the balls and live a little more!
Kate: What are you most excited about for the upcoming festival?
Stefan: In terms of the actual installations, there’s two that I’m really excited about. One is called Death Meditation [by The indigo project], which sounds intense (and it probably will be). It’s all about being able to sit with the idea of your own death and imagining what your last moments might be like then bringing you back to the present and thinking about how it made you feel. It’s going to be really powerful; quite deep and introspective.
The other thing that I’m excited about is this secret dance party that we’re running with two Sydney based companies: Groove Therapy and Retrosweat. There’s a surprise element that people are going to find out about after they’ve participated in the dance class. I can’t reveal too much but it’s going to be really cool!
In terms of the whole festival, I’m really excited about creating a safe and non-judgmental space where people can come, talk and interact with their fears. It's a rare opportunity that young people hardly ever get to experience as it can sometimes be perceived as ‘lame’ or ‘weak’ because you’re being vulnerable. I’m trying to change that by making fear accessible and relatable. I really hope that it has a positive impact on people’s lives.
Kate: What were the first steps in making it all happen? What was the first seed that you planted?
Stefan: I’ve never run a festival before! I’m a film director by trade, so turning the poem into a film was a natural progression, then it was turned into a book because I was given the opportunity by a publisher. The festival came about because I didn’t want people to just watch or read something, I wanted them to be able to interact with it and experience something tangible. I thought about how I could create a space where people could interact with fear in a fun, colourful and ridiculous way and then I found the right people to help me bring it to life. I’m fortunate to work in the creative arts community where my friends have certain skills that they can bring to the table. When I’ve approached people to help out, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly everyone has been able to relate to my story in some way and they’re keen to help out.
The festival wouldn’t be happening without the help of COMMUNE, which is a community art space in Sydney and where the festival will be held. I went and met with a guy named Sam Ali earlier in the year and shared my story with him and we just connected on such an amazing, deep level because we’ve had similar experiences. Without him, and the COMMUNE, the festival wouldn’t be what it’s going to be. That’s something that I’m extremely thankful for and I want to make sure that I tell people about it.
Kate: What’s your biggest fear?
Stefan: I think on a day-to-day level it would be something like public speaking or seeing a shark when I’m out for a surf. I’ll probably have those fears forever. My biggest fear was the fear of the unknown and not knowing how to make the best decisions in order to live the best life that I possibly can. This whole project has helped me to surrender to that and embrace the uncertainty. I guess that’s the beauty of life.
Kate: What has been one of your proudest career moments to date?
Stefan: This project is most definitely one of my proudest achievements. I basically quit my job at the start of the year to work on this. Every single day I’ve felt fear when working on this project. I’ve been afraid because I’ve poured all of my money, time and energy into this and sometimes I think, “What if people don’t respond to it? What if it doesn’t impact people the way that I hope it does?” That would be heartbreaking for me. But it’s been out there for just over a week now and there’s already been such a positive response. That’s given me a total boost and such relief knowing that it’s all worth it. Anytime that I’ve felt like giving up on this project, which has happened several times, I’ve gone back to those simple five words, ‘we’re all going to die,' and it reminds me that I may as well just go for it, at least I’m doing something that I love and it’s challenging me every day. That’s a healthy place to be.
"This whole project has helped me to surrender to that and embrace the uncertainty. I guess that’s the beauty of life."
Kate: What advice would you offer to young people who are wanting to take on a creative project but are not quite sure how to get the ball rolling
Stefan: There is so much positive guidance out there for you, especially with the help of the internet! There are great podcasts, TED talks, speeches that you can listen to; soak that stuff up as much as you can.
It took me a while to realise that I’m the only one that sees the world through my eyes. When you create something you should always remember that. It’s easy to copy things that you like but it’s so much harder to put something out there that is entirely you, that’s where the personal judgement comes in. The cool thing is, because you look at things through your own lens someone else can look at it and think, “That’s the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen.” It's important to hold that at your core when you're creating.
If you’re creating something and hoping that everyone is going to like what you do, then you’re always going to be disappointed. You can’t name one song that everyone likes (Editor’s note: he’s obviously never heard Horses by Daryl Braithwaite) – there are people that hate The Beatles or Michael Jackson, other people love them. You can’t please everyone. Create something that is uniquely you and some people will enjoy it.
Kate: How do you fuel yourself creatively?
Stefan: I know that I’m in a good place creatively when I do something that I believe in. Last year for example, I travelled the world making TV commercials and documentaries but it was all for someone else or for a company, it wasn’t coming from me. That kind of burnt me out. That kind of burnt me out. I think being in a good creative headspace is to work on a project that means something to you.You don’t have to go out and save the world, you just need to do something that resonates with you on a deeper level. You could just make a birthday card for someone that you love. I push myself the hardest when I’m making something that’s coming from me because I want it to be the best thing that it possibly can.
There has to be a balance for everything, right? Like, you can’t only pursue things that make you feel good because then you might not be making any money and then you can’t eat. No one can survive on Mi Goreng noodles 24/7.
Kate: I did for nearly three years while I was at uni.
Stefan: It’s totally a uni snack! It’s like Mi Goreng camaraderie. There’s probably a Facebook group about it or something.
*Kate and Stefan proceed to talk about Mi Goreng for a few minutes.*
Stefan: How did we start talking about noodles? What did you ask me again?
The Important Details
Date: Fri. 17 November 2017
Time: 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm AEDT
Location: COMMUNE 901 Bourke Street Waterloo, NSW 2017.
BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE.
To get a little taste of what you can expect, check out the WAGTD video below.
Stefan Hunt started his film-making career at 18, when he decided to buy an ice-cream truck and drive it across the U.S with the goal of surfing in each state, even if it was land locked. The idea was so stupid that it did incredibly well. Since then he has directed award-winning films across every single continent except for Antarctica - living the dream. And then life spiralled. Two years ago Stefan's anxiety got really bad and he became so afraid of the unknown that he couldn’t make a simple decision until he penned a poem, ‘We're All Going To Die’, which changed everything. Click here to find out more about Stefan.