“We’re all going to die someday, death is the only truth there is. How does that impact the role that fear plays in your life, if you know you’re gonna die?”
Stefan Hunt is on a mission to help people “kick fear in the nuts” by using death to shift our perspective on fear and the role that it plays in our lives. He isn’t referring to garden-variety phobias like the fear of sharks, snakes or spiders. “We’re talking about the daily fears that actually hold us back from living, whether or not we recognise them,” he explains. “You know, rejection, or judgement from other people, or failure…. The fear of failing, it holds us back on a day-to-day basis.”
With a successful career in filmmaking that all kicked off in 2006 when he and his best mate headed to the USA, bought an ice cream truck and drove to every state making a documentary–Stefan has never been one to take the conventional route. The wayward lifestyle of working as a freelance creative was for Stefan (like many others) largely liberating. However, a few years ago when he reached his late twenties he took a look around at the people in his life and felt like he was the only one who didn’t have life “all figured out”.
Pictured: Stefan Hunt by @samuelxshepherd
“I actually went through a really challenging and dark patch of my life with anxiety and I was actually at a point where I was just completely crippled by the fear of the unknown,” he explained.
“I didn’t have the answers to my purpose… Was I in the right relationships? Was I living in the right city? Was I doing the right career? …I just couldn’t find these guarantees and it ended up just spiralling out of control. Only looking back on it can I actually say that it was the fear of the unknown that crippled me, but at the time I was just completely in this vortex [of anxiety] and I just couldn’t break out of it.”
After talking to a doctor and then a psychologist, Stefan took all the advice that was flung at him and tried all the things people suggested to get out of his rut–surfing, dance, meditation and more. When eventually he turned his hand to writing, he found himself penning a poem, and the first five words on the page shifted everything: “We’re all going to die”. Simple, direct, a touch morbid and profoundly liberating– by accepting the inevitability of death, he finally had the guarantee he was looking for, and he wanted to share it with others.
We’re All Going to Die became an illustrated “children’s book for adults” and then a short film. However, Stefan wanted to find a way to make people sit with the message for longer. With the help of a combination of self-funding, a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, a small but dedicated team and an array of international artists–We’re All Going to Die the festival was born, a multi-media, multi-sensory event, which Stefan best describes as an “amusement park for the soul”.
Pictured: Stefan Hunt by @liamriley
“We wanted to create a space where people can come and look at fear and the role it plays in our life and question whether it has to actually cripple us from really truly living,” said Stefan.
Overtaking the labyrinth-like warehouse space of Commune in Waterloo on November 17 2017, the inaugural event was a kaleidoscope of colour, music and interactive art. The choose-your-own-adventure style experiences ranged from the “silly and purely fun” (a silent-disco style dance party in a teenage bedroom, a mini film festival, a “Reality Headset” that invites you to look ridiculous in front of strangers) to the “thought-provoking and quite confronting” (an exhibition of photographs taken of a man on his deathbed, panel discussions on fear and death, death meditations, eye gazing with strangers).
“I think that across everything that we created, the biggest thing I wanted to highlight to people was ‘you are not alone’. We all feel these things, we all have these internal monologues, we all have these common fears and when you realise that you’re not the only one that experiences that, that’s the biggest game-changer,” said Stefan.
Pictured: We're All Going To Die Festival
When I caught up with Stefan in the days after the festival, he admitted that he had barely had time to digest the way it turned out–the massive line to get in that snaked down the block, or the contagiously positive vibe of the crowd. If he could do it all over again, he’d make it even bigger and give the audience more time to experience it all.
“Life’ short”, “YOLO”, “seize the day”–“We’re All Going To Die” is not all that different to any dime-a-dozen inspirational quote, and Stefan freely admits this. We’re All Going To Die seeks to make this message “cool” by summoning your impending mortality to “shift perspectives that maybe a colourful Instagram quote wouldn’t”. We’re All Going to Die embraces the darkness along with the light; it encourages the idea that you can get a little morbid on your way to living your best life.
While there are big plans on the horizon, with hopes of taking the festival touring nationally and internationally from 2018,Stefan is conscious not to label We’re All Going To Die a mental health movement. Those who don’t identify with terms of mental health could feel excluded by that language, but “fear and death apply to everyone”:
“For me my fear of the unknown is what led to my anxiety, so if you can get people thinking about the role fear plays in their life, maybe you can even prevent some form of mental health challenge.”
“When I tell people this story [about my own anxiety], its not like I wrote those five words and the anxiety stopped. The hardest thing for me in the early stages was coming to grips with the fact that I’m going to have to live with this for the rest of my life, its not something you just get rid of, its not a problem that you solve… I still get it to this day but no way near as much as I used to,” shared Stefan.
“The thing that people have to know is because something works for one person, it doesn’t mean it has to work for you, but if you can find it in yourself to be proactive and to try things something will help… its just about giving something a go that people recommend and not beating yourself up if it doesn’t solve everything.”
“Like mental health, things like death and fear are seen as such a taboo because they’re either seen as morbid or weak, and I think we need to rethink that because if we talk about it, it can have the most positive effect in our lives.”
Pictured: We're All Going To Die Festival