Phillip Crawford’s Rites of Passage, a once in a generation film about young people by young people, continues to go from strength to strength with he film having it’s television premiere on Sunday, June 28.
Made with a message of hope, Rites of Passage is a raw, uncensored and honest film inspired by the real life experiences of the young people who made this powerful feature-length drama.
The film comprises six interwoven stories – rebellious students find their voices through poetry; boys literally play with fire; skate boarders capture the violence next door on their ubiquitous video camera; a family flees a violent father; a party turns dangerous for two girls; and a thief tries to rescue Christmas.
In the film the cast were also the crew and what emerges is a portrait of resilient young people responding to the relatable challenges surrounding them.
“Rites of Passage is a street film. The stories come from our lives. We are the people who play the characters in the film and we also were the crew. We don’t have easy lives but that’s what makes the film interesting.” Said Tiran Dingle, one of the film’s lead actors.
They might live in public housing and come from families who have seen disadvantage and hardship. But with frankness and courage, these young people have dipped below the surface of their often tough exteriors to reveal what’s going on inside their lives.
Elias Rees, who features in the Poetry Class Story chapter of the film said, “Making Rites of Passage was like a way for us to show our feeling about our lives and the things that us young people face. Showing your feelings can change things. It can change how people feel about you. It can change how you feel about yourself.”
The film was shot over a period of three years, making it a rite of passage for the young people involved. None of them, including Lakia Igano, had acted before and their authentic performances blur the line between fact and fiction. “Being a part of a long term project like Rights of Passage gave us time to grow and become valued members of our society whereas previously we were looked down on by others. It also gave us some of the most incredible experiences of our lives.” said Igano, 19.
Igano travelled to Poland in 2013 when Rites of Passage screened in competition at the Warsaw Film Festival – an International Federation of Film Producers Association Official Competitive Film Festival and one of only 14 film festivals in the world with this accreditation alongside Cannes, Venice and Berlin. The film was awarded a Special Jury Prize in the Free Spirit Competition, for independent and rebellious films from around the world, with the judges noting the way in which working with the community and young people produced a unique vision. Lakia hosted the three screenings at the festival and accepted the award on behalf of the rest of the young people involved.
Some participants in the film have continued their interest in film. Eight of these young people have made their own short films and these have been screened at Festivals and won awards in their own right. One young man (Daniel) is at university studying digital media and another (Elias) was cast in the first series of Redfern Now and in the feature film Around the Block due to his work on Rites of Passage. For others the film has been a stepping stone to seek career advice or assistance for drug and alcohol addiction. But for everyone involved it has been a welcome confidence boost and a way to feel like contributors to the community.
Winning awards for editing, directing and audience choice, Rites of Passage has connected with people at film festivals internationally and with Australian audiences via a national theatrical tour involving 21 cities.
Rites of Passage won Best Film at the Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults, Best Direction: First Feature at the Colorado International Film Festival, a People’s Choice Award at the Bay Street Film Festival in Canada, Best Editing at the Cyprus International Film Festival, the Innovative Production Award at the Online Video Awards Australia and was nominated for the International Jury Prize at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, Brazil and Woods Hole Film Festivals, as well as being nominated for the Tomorrow Award at the Oulu International Film Festival for Children and Young People in Finland.
Rites of Passage has stimulated conversations about what is happening in the lives of young people today. The film explores romance, school, family violence, grief, peer pressure, drugs and crime and is also full of humour as it shows teenagers negotiating the dangers and discoveries of their age. “The stories in Rites of Passage are about choices. We all have choices as we are growing up. The characters in the film have to make choices about what to do when they see violence, whether they will share their personal stories to their school through their poetry, whether they should play with fire, whether they should stay with their parents or whether it is time to step out on their own, whether to trust, whether to get in a car and go to a party with people who you don’t know, whether you should follow the crowd or make your own choices about what is right.” said Summer Harris, one of the film’s supporting actors.
The young people have been supported by a small team of filmmakers working for Beyond Empathy, a not-for-profit community, arts and cultural development organisation that creates art projects in Australia with people living with hardship to build new futures. Beyond Empathy’s catch cry is: “We love art and we hate disadvantage!”
Rites of Passage has been made according to 10 principles:
1. The making of the film should assist people living with hardship to build new futures
2. All key actors must be amateurs and live in the community where the film is shot
3. There can be no traditional script and more than one story line
4. The story lines must be developed with the actors, drawing on their life experiences
5. If an actor fails to turn up, the shoot still goes ahead, creating a new direction for the film
6. The film must be shot in real locations in the community
7. Key actors and the production team should all operate cameras, sound, lighting & other equipment
8. Every scene should be shot with different types of cameras and in different styles
9. All the credits must be in alphabetical order, with no one credited as writer or creator
10. The first screening must be held in the community where the film was made
Late last year director Phillip Crawford wrote and exclusive article for Cinema Australia about his film. You can read it here.
Rites of Passage airs on ABC 1 on Sunday June 28 at 10.30pm