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Dusty & Stones

A couple of cowboys from Swaziland (now Eswatini) are just… living the dream – and yet, even in their dreams, this would have been hard to accomplish - from the 31st Raindance Film Festival

Musical documentaries are usually 10 a penny; there’s been an awful lot of them over the years, and with that, a varying degree of success as well. Here’s one a bit unique though, one that stands tall alongside Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) as being incredibly innocent and emotional. The message is simple but strong: never give up because that opportunity may just present itself to you down the line.

The premise is one that is honest and authentic. A story about two struggling country music singers from the tiny African Kingdom of Eswatini who are unexpectedly invited to compete in a battle of the bands-like contest in Texas, the heart of country music. We first meet Dusty and Stones – cousins from a tiny village in the country but have since moved to the capital – at a time when they have been performing for 10 years, and yet, hardly anyone turns up to their shows. They are country music fanatics and have established themselves as the stars of the world’s smallest fan base of country music lovers. There are moments where the passion they hold for the genre mixes with the realisation of life, as they sing along to Kenny Rogers while doing the dishes and listening to the country music station on their grandparent’s old radio – it’s moments such as this where the magic of music really grabs hold of you with its power to reach someone’s soul.

The cousins are the perfect representation of what country music is all about, two lost souls wandering a dusty highway in search of some love and fulfilment. You hope they make it somehow, or at least experience a taste of something sweet. And then, the gods from above answer their prayers and it comes in the form of an email: an invite to the Texas Sound International Country Music Awards. Their almost unfathomable dream has become a reality, this is the moment their journey truly starts, and they can achieve stardom or maybe just a chance at feeling successful, proud, and happy. There are curveballs along the way, that’s almost a guarantee, but a pretty dismal first rehearsal, a fairly rude backing band, and a gig that feels “like a retirement home,” will never put this duo down, even if their brief sadness feels like a giant gut check.

The film is mostly full of positivity though, and it has buckets and buckets of beautiful moments spread throughout it. The sequence in which the cousins travel back to their home village so they can tell their family the good news, all of whom are so unbelievably proud of the returning sons, no more so than their adorable grandparents, is just so loveable. This isn’t the first time that the dust from those roads comes through the screen and into your eyes (that’s what I blamed it on anyway) because the tears begin to flood the further the film moves through the gears. If it’s not the family that tugs on those heartstrings, then it might just be the reaction of the cousins when they first hear their recorded songs in the studio that does it. Tears of joy and relief swamp the screen through their eyes, and seriously, if you’re not shedding a couple yourself by this point, then we’re sorry to say, you might be stone cold.

On top of all the emotion that expels out of this film, it also backs itself up by being technically impressive as well. The cinematography is shot by a team of talented individuals with a keen eye for inventiveness. It is subtle and soft, and then you throw that lovely calming score into the mix as well, and it delivers some breathtaking outcomes. Capturing those incredible landscapes that Southern Africa has to offer is the first inkling into something magical, but the sequence that really cements the greatness of the cinematography is when the story follows the cousins through the streets of Nashville as they explore the nightlife and experience this phenomenal moment together as best friends should. There really is something gracefully exquisite about watching two people from a completely different part of the world (one that is especially poor and suffers such harshness) enjoying the fruits of something new and foreign, and this film captures it perfectly.

This documentary is about as authentically wholesome as it gets. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, and even then, what they achieved in 2017 was something they couldn’t have predicted. But the aspect that makes the film work the most is the two central characters that have opened up their lives for us to view. Dusty and Stones’ personalities are so infective, and they radiate something so that is often quite hard to find: feelings of purity and innocence. And it’s the two men themselves who describe the experience and the film in the most effective words possible, “For two people to come all the way from a small unknown kingdom. To come and record with masters of the whole thing, we will never forget this for as long as we live. It was special.” And no more words are even needed.

The 31st edition of Raindance Film Festival just keeps churning out the quality, and one of the films that could very well be the surprise package of the whole festival is Jesse Rudoy’s Dusty & Stones!

By John McDonald - 19-10-2023

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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