A raw feature-length film inspired by the real life experiences of youth in the Illawarra is stimulating conversation about life as a teenager in Australia.

Shot over a period of three years, Rites of Passage addresses themes of romance, school, family violence, grief, peer pressure, drugs and crime, through narratives inspired by the experiences of the cast, who were also the crew.

“None of the young people involved had acted before and their authentic performances blur the line between fact and fiction,” director Phillip Crawford said.

“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.”

Lakia, 19, said: “Being a part of a long term project like Rites 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”.

The film’s key cast was supported by a small team of filmmakers working for Beyond Empathy, an Australian not-for-profit community, arts and cultural development organisation, as well as dozens of volunteers in various roles.

Several UOW performance students, some now alumni, put their hand up to play supporting roles in the film, from a mother who is sick to a Shakespeare teacher.

UOW participants included: Louisa Raft, currently in her final year of a BCA (Dean’s Scholar) with a major in Theatre; Lajos Hamers, a current PhD student; Alice Burns-McClintock, who completed a BCA (Performance) in 2011; Matthew Abotomey, who completed a BCA/BA with majors in Performance and History in 2012 and a BA (Honours) in 2013; Toby Davis, who completed a BCA (Performance) in 2011; and Kim Griffin, a staff member in Careers Central.

The film has been screened internationally and been recognised by numerous awards.

In 2013, Rites of Passage was screened in Poland at the Warsaw Film Festival, an International Federation of Film Producers Association Official Competitive Film Festival. 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.

The film has also been recognised in various categories at festivals such as the Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults, the Cyprus International Film Festival, the International Film Awards Berlin, and the Social Justice Film Festival.

Reviews have also been a source of validation for the film.

Łukasz Kamiński, film critic,at The Warsaw Gazette in Poland wrote: “In the film Rites of Passage Australian youth tell stories about 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.”

Evan Williams, film critic at The Australian, said: “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.”


Some participants of the film have continued pursuing their interest in film since Rites of Passage.

Some have made their own short films, which have been screened at Festivals and won awards in their own right.

Daniel De Filippo is studying digital media at UOW while Elias Ress has been cast in the first series of Redfern Now and the feature film Around the Block.

For others, the film has been a stepping stone to seek career advice or assistance for drug and alcohol addiction, Mr Crawford explained.

“For everyone involved it has been a welcome confidence boost and a way to help people feel like they’re contributors to their community,” Mr Crawford said.

Rites of Passage will air on ABC 1 Sunday June 28 at 10.30PM.