Made with a message of hope, Rites of Passage is a raw, uncensored and honest film inspired by the life experiences of the young people involved in the making of this powerful feature-length drama. Six interwoven stories show these teenagers negotiating the dangers and discoveries of their age and because the cast were also the crew what emerges is a self portrait of resilient kids responding to the challenges surrounding them.

They might live in public housing and come from families that 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.

Rites of Passage was made according to 10 principles:
1. The making of the film should help 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 there must be 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 continues, 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 the filming equipment
8. Every scene should be shot with different types of cameras and 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

The film is an innovative collage of colour and texture, shot in glorious mayhem on cameras ranging from 16mm, Super 8, Digital SLRs, Handycams, Infrared B&W and iPhones. It was produced by community arts organisation Beyond Empathy.

Film Festivals and Awards

WINNER: Special Jury Mention: Warsaw Film Festival Free Spirit Competition (for independent and rebellious films from around the world) Warsaw is one of 14 events recognized by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (www.fiapf.org) as international competative film festivals – next to Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Oct 2013

WINNER: BEST FILM Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults In Competition: Films Made by Adults for Children and Young Adults Sept 2013 Auburn, Australia Sao Paolo International Film Festival (Mostra) Nominated for International Jury Award: New Filmmakers Competition Oct 2013

WINNER: Best Editing: Cyprus International Film Festival Golden Aphrodite Competition: First Feature Premieres, Oct 2013

Oulu International Film Festival for Children and Young People Nominated for Tomorrow Award. Nov 2013

WINNER: Most Innovative Production, OVAS (Online Video Awards) Australia Also Nominated for Best Drama and Best Collaboration Oct 2014

Social Justice Film Festival Seattle, USA, Oct 2013 Bolder Life Festival Colorado, USA, Nov 2013

WINNER: People’s Choice Award: Bay Street Film Festival Thunder Bay, Canada, Sept 2013

WINNER: Best Director: First Feature Colorado International Film Festival, Aug 2013

WINNER: Honorable Mention International Film Awards Berlin, Aug 2013

Woods Hole Film Festival In competition, August 2013, USA

Reviews and Quotes

“Directed and edited by Phillip Crawford, Rites of Passage is among the most remarkable and moving films produced in Australia in recent years. The freshness and spontaneity of the storytelling masks a disciplined cinematic technique in which seemingly random and disconnected episodes are brought together to form a satisfying whole. It is an example of community filmmaking in the most literal sense. Credit for the finished work belongs principally to Phillip Crawford, but the film is essentially a co-operative enterprise involving scores of young people (and many older ones) in Wollongong’s southern suburbs, all of whom have shared in some way in the creative process as performers, extras or production assistants. The result is a picture of day-to-day life among a cross-section of Wollongong’s multicultural working-class community that has the unmistakable ring of authenticity. These youngsters aren’t following some pre-ordained script or contrived narrative; they are revealing their own lives in a film charged with truth and raw humanity. The success of Rites of Passage owes much to a set of ten principles to which all participants were bound. They are enunciated on-screen at the start of the film and essentially have to do with ideals of sharing and co-operation, a rejection of elitism and a sense of equality among all those taking part. The result could easily have been muddled and unfocused. But the naturalism and honesty of the performers goes well with the stories they tell – the pains of family breakup, a boy’s love for his dog, the efforts of local teachers to instil in their charges an understanding of literature and a talent for self-expression. Visually striking in its mixture of colour and heavily-filtered black-and-white cinematography, film combines a sense of immediacy with a strange mood of timelessness. The final sequence is brilliantly suspenseful. Rites of Passage will not be easily forgotten.”

Evan Williams, film critic, The Australian

“Just a few minutes into the film, you start to care intensely about these kids, and the tension of how they will survive and get through becomes unbearable. But there’s always enough warmth and lightness to give you hope. Somehow through the freshness of the filmmaking, you see their inner worlds lit up and the trials of being young and fragile under the tough masks the world makes them wear. Millions of kids go through these painful rites of passage, just a few adults manage to care and guide them, often failing on the way, often doing harm as well as good. The film doesn’t soft shoe it, there is menace and ugliness here, but there is a way through. I think every young person, and every adult who watches it, will be lifted up and prompted to care more and do more so that we waste less young lives. “

Steve Biddulph, one of the world’s best loved parenting authors and educators. His books, including Secret of Happy Children, Raising Boys, The New Manhood and now RAISING GIRLS are in four million homes and 31 languages.”

Rites of Passage is a feature drama set in the suburbs of the Illawarra in NSW. As the name suggests, the film is concerned with teenagers negotiating the dangers and discoveries of their age. It is a multi-character film exploring issues including schooling, romance, drugs and other crimes and misdemeanours, all set against a backdrop of imperfect families, many suffering the traumas of domestic violence. Six dramatic scenarios unfold in a novel way, more resonating with each other than overlapping. Kids are initially just getting by, though often they triumph against the odds, too. For all the weighty themes, there is great delight and humour in these stories. The filmmaking is superb with gorgeous imagery and audacious editing. All scenes were shot on more than one camera, giving rise to very stylish cinema. The many characters are quickly established through affecting performances that always ring with authenticity. This beautiful movie is all the more impressive as the young cast also crewed the shoot. Guidelines were in place that required that the script come from the actors, that the locations used be in their neighbourhood and, fittingly, that the first screening be in the community. It had also wisely been resolved that should an actor fail to show up, the production would continue with necessary adjustments to the storyline. This model of filmmaking brings to mind British social realism mixed with Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95. The project was auspiced by Beyond Empathy (BE), a group who, “Love art and hate disadvantage”. From this brilliant conception emerges a stylish self-portrait of resilient kids responding to the challenges surrounding them. Clearly, both the young people involved and their community have been transformed in the process of making this film and the viewer has to marvel at the breathtaking success of this inspired intervention. Rites of Passage is a uniquely rewarding movie experience highly recommended for teenagers and older. Rating: 4 & ½ stars out of 5

Andrew Bunney, Let’s Go To The Pictures Three D Radio, Adelaide

In the film Rites of Passage Australian youth tell the story of growing up. Themes of sex and violence, love and trust are inextricably intertwined. And whether Rites of Passage is a documentary or fiction, you’ll have to decide for yourself. It’s a movie without a predetermined script, but made with ten commandments or principles that control the way the stories develop, the selection of actors, the shooting techniques and some less weighty matters (for example the ninth principle is that the end credits must be arranged in alphabetical order, without recognition for writers or key authors). But the most important principle, the first on the list of ten commandments, explains the meaning of the whole enterprise, “The creation of this film is to help people confronted with a hard life to build their future.” Because the protagonists are young people, some at odds with the law, or with behavioural or educational problems, they are all, in the end, lost somewhere between childhood and adulthood. All have in common that they come from Illawarra region in south-eastern Australia. Their stories, however, could happen anywhere. Because everywhere there are reckless, gullible teenagers who might go to a dangerous party, or a family on the run fleeing from their father and husband, or a young boy trying to train an energetic dog or rebellious, mouthy young people who are constantly confronting their teachers. Each story is packed with emotion, anger, grief, love, fear, longing and helplessness. The style of the film perfectly underlines the emotions – changing from colour to black and white, peaceful to rough, the pace of the shots is sometimes long making it seem like time is temporarily suspended and in the next moment the pace is choppy and nervous. The film was made over three years. It was not, in accordance with a third principle, made with a pre ordained script. The actors themselves helped to create their stories. They also, and this was another of the principles, operated equipment, cameras, lights and microphones. Watching over all of this was the director, cinematographer and film editor Phillip Crawford who has worked for many years with young people from the margins of the community. Rites of Passage is a film which could be viewed as a documentary or a fiction. How many of these stories really happened? How many of these young people are the hero of their own true story? It does not matter. What is important is that the time we spend with the teenagers in this film allows us to see the world through their eyes with all its ugliness and beauty at the same time.

Łukasz Kamiński, film critic, The Warsaw Gazette, Poland