Filmmakers aim to inspire and challenge the audience. But what if the film changes its makers instead? 

A project called Rites of Passage has done just that for a group of young people in Wollongong, New South Wales. 

The film features six interwoven stories based on the real experiences of the project’s participants.   

“Even though we knew we were making it, it was a big shock to see my face on the screen, and then to show it to audiences and see the reaction,” said one of the storytellers, Daniel de Filippo. 

“People came up to me afterwards and said they were really touched by our stories because they were facing the same challenges. That’s when I realised that the film making process is about making connections.” 

Rites of Passage is the work of Beyond Empathy, a group that uses the arts to enrich lives and expand the horizons of marginalised community groups. Director Phil Crawford began working on the film in 2009, supported by the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation.

“Really it’s about using art to change lives. It’s an ongoing process so they might see themselves and their abilities in a totally different light – and that changes the way their relate to the people around them.” 

The young people became scriptwriters, camera crew, actors and producers. It gave them confidence, helped build valuable skills, and created a platform for sharing their stories with the world. 

Rites of Passage has picked up a swag of awards, including Best Film at Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults, People's Choice Award at the Bay Street Film Festival in Canada, and Best Director: First Feature at Colorado International Film Festival. 

Most recently Rites of Passage was recognised with the Special Jury Prize, from the Warsaw Film Festival, Poland. 

Beyond the awards is a more important measure of success – the gift of experience and opportunities for people who may have otherwise missed out. 

“Before I got involved in Rites of Passage I thought the whole idea of going to university was elitist and for people who are really smart, but not practical,” said Daniel, who plans to begin a degree in media studies in the New Year. 

“But now I want to learn because I understand what you can get from an education.”