This lively Australian drama hops between local music fests — and will make you want to go to one ASAP.
August 11, 2022
Three friends, a huge music festival worth making a mega mission to get to and an essential bag of goon: if you didn't experience that exact combination growing up in Australia, did you really grow up in Australia? That's the mix that starts 6 Festivals, too, with the Aussie feature throwing in a few other instantly familiar inclusions to set the scene. Powderfinger sing-alongs, scenic surroundings and sun-dappled moments have all filled plenty of teenage fest trips, and so has an anything-it-takes mentality — and for the film's central trio of Maxie (Rasmus King, Barons), Summer (Yasmin Honeychurch, Back of the Net) and James (Rory Potter, Ruby's Choice), they're part of their trip to Utopia Valley. But amid dancing to Lime Cordiale and Running Touch, then missing out on Peking Duk's stroke-of-midnight New Year's Eve set after a run-in with security, a shattering piece of news drops. Suddenly these festival-loving friends have a new quest: catching as much live music as they can to help James cope with cancer.
The first narrative feature by Bra Boys and Fighting Fear director Macario De Souza, 6 Festivals follows Maxie, Summer and James' efforts to tour their way along the east coast festival circuit. No, there are no prizes for guessing how many gigs are on their list, with the Big Pineapple Music Festival, Yours and Owls and Lunar Electric among the events on their itinerary. Largely road-tripping between real fests, and also showcasing real sets by artists spanning Dune Rats, Bliss n Eso, G Flip, B Wise, Ruby Fields, Dope Lemon, Stace Cadet and more, 6 Festivals dances into the mud, sweat and buzz — the crowds, cheeky beers and dalliances with other substances that help form this coming-of-age rite-of-passage, aka cramming in as many festivals as you possibly can from the moment your parents will let you, as well. This is also a cancer drama, however, which makes for an unsurprisingly tricky balancing act, especially after fellow Aussie movie Babyteeth tackled the latter so devastatingly well so recently.
Take that deservedly award-winning film, throw in whichever music festival documentary takes your fancy, then add The Bucket List but with teens — that's 6 Festivals. There's a touch of the concert-set 9 Songs as well, obviously sans sex scenes. Spotting the dots connected by De Souza and Sean Nash's (a Home and Away and Neighbours alum) script isn't difficult. That said, neither is spying the movie's well-intentioned aim. Riding the ecstatically bustling festival vibe, and surveying everything from the anticipation-laden pre-fest excitement through to the back-to-reality crash afterwards, 6 Festivals is an attempt to capture and celebrate the fest experience, as well as a concerted effort to face a crucial fact: that, as much as a day in the mosh pit feels like an escape and is always worth cherishing, it only sweeps away life's stark truths momentarily.
The film's core threesome have their fair share of stresses; pivotally, 6 Festivals sticks with believable dramas. James faces his diagnosis, treatment and his mother's (Briony Williams, Total Control) worries, all while trying to recruit the feature's array of musical acts for his own dream event. Scoring backstage access comes courtesy of up-and-coming Indigenous muso Marley (debutant Guyala Bayles), who graces most of the lineups and shared a childhood with Summer, united by their respective mothers' struggles with addiction — and, now they've crossed paths again, offers to mentor her pal's own singing career. As for Maxie, his drug-dealing older brother Kane (Kyuss King, also from Barons) is usually at the same fests pressuring him into carrying his stash. They're the only family each other has, so saying no doesn't seem an option.
Cemented friendships, last hurrahs, big dreams, substance-addled chaos: all festivals boast these tales, whichever one, six or 1000 anyone happens to pick. Again, it's easy to see how De Souza and Nash have chosen not only their overall plot, but its narrative beats — and it's just as easy to understand why, what they're striving for and how it's hoped that viewers will respond. 6 Festivals' live footage is vivid and authentic in its look, texture and tone, and the story sticks to the same relatable terrain. Of course, the line between clichéd and being predictable because that's simply how life is can be incredibly thin, not to mention subjective. Sometimes, 6 Festivals falls on the raw and immersive side of the been-there-done-that equation, and sometimes on the forced and well-worn — like a well-known song either given a definitive new live spin, or sounding exactly as it does whenever and wherever it's played.
Always fresh and lived-in, and never just doing what's done, is the film's impressive young cast — even when the dialogue they're uttering is more than a little clunky. It isn't merely Potter who gets saddled with awkward lines, thankfully, as the worst pictures about ailing characters tend to do. 6 Festivals doesn't push its cancer-stricken character to the side and, with all five of its key figures wading through woes, it smartly doesn't use his deteriorating health solely to gift his pals with life-changing lessons, either. Still, whenever the movie gleans an opportunity to spell out its weighty emotions as overtly as it can, it takes it. It needn't; Potter sells James' plight in his yearning eyes and anxious energy, including when getting drunk feels like the only thing to do, while Honeychurch, Bayles and the IRL King brothers all leave their own imprints.
Every festival thrives or falters based on its lineup, and this film that flits between six of them is no different — including via the real-life bands and artists that fill its frames. Some get worked into the narrative in those aforementioned behind-the-action chats, others solely bust out their onstage best, but the full roster provides a stelar snapshot of Australia's music and fest scenes. With the live performances, as well as the general on-the-ground atmosphere, cinematographer Hugh Miller (June Again) and editor Ahmad Halimi (The Bureau of Magical Things) achieve the most vital task 6 Festivals has: making feeling like you're there the easiest feeling in the world. The movie overall is a mixed bag, but wanting to rush out of the cinema — or hop up from your couch, with the film hitting streaming on August 25, a fortnight after its big-screen debut — and into the first festival near you is an instant reaction.
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