IT IS A glowering mid-January day and the noise of cicadas flows like an angry wave through the air as students collect on the campus of the University of Wollongong. Though school is still weeks away, these keen teenagers are preparing for their HSC year with summer classes. Today, the subject for discussion is ‘Belonging’ and about a hundred and fifty of them crowd the lecture hall. Others are ‘patched in’ via video link from schools in towns across the region. They begin the session by watching a most unusual film called Rites of Passage. It is a recent release though it is not competing for box office dollars with The Hobbit or American Hustle. In fact it will never have a standard cinematic release. Because this film was made for an entirely different purpose than simple entertainment, though it hopefully also achieves that. Rites of Passage was made by a company called Beyond Empathy which uses the arts, in all its loose and various forms, to improve the lives of multiply-disadvantaged young Australians.
As the film finishes and the lights come on, four young people stand somewhat bravely before a microphone. They are four of the fifty young people who worked on the film as actors or behind the lens. And if they look a little different from how they appeared in the film it’s because the film took nearly five years to make. They grew up during its making. The film was their rite of passage.
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