The six adolescents likely never saw a future for themselves outside their disadvantaged communities.
Now, their stories are being lauded and applauded across the globe thanks to an innovative film blending facts and fictions about growing up in the Illawarra.
Rites of Passage was filmed in the region over three years as a project of social agency Beyond Empathy, weaving six stories about alcohol, school, crime and risk-taking into a movie that is turning heads worldwide.
Already selected for screening at prestigious film festivals in Colorado, Berlin and Canada, Rites of Passage is also slated for screenings at festivals in Warsaw, Cyprus, Sao Paolo and Seattle.
“It is fictional, but some of the stories are based on the lives of our actors,” director Phil Crawford said. “We had no script, the actors developed storylines about their own characters.”
The young people not only acted, but also worked in filming, editing and other behind-the-scenes roles.
Elias Rees, 18, said he became involved with the project simply to fill in time but is now reaping some serious rewards, having since been cast in the ABC TV series Redfern Now.
“I just thought it would be fun, something to do,” he said.
“I loved it. I got to make a lot of new friends, and got into acting.”
Elias will soon travel to Broken Hill and Brisbane for film screenings, while other cast members have been travelling the country – and further – to promote the film.
Another actor, Lakia Igano, will soon travel to Poland for the Warsaw Film Festival.
“It’s been such a surprise, I didn’t think anyone would really be interested, let alone people in Poland,” Mr Crawford said.
“It’s been a great confidence booster for these kids, to see that they can do things and get things accomplished.”
Rites of Passage will screen at Warrawong’s Gala Cinema on October 17, November 4 and November 28. See ropillawarra.eventbrite.com.au.