Rite of Passage
In August of 2009, seven 14 year old boys were each taken to a different spot in the Catskill Mountains of New York. They were asked to bring only water and the clothes they thought would be suitable for the weather – no packs, no tents, no sleeping bags, no phones, no flashlights, no snacks or food. No distractions. They were asked to gather enough wood to keep a fire going for 24 hours. They were brought a cast iron pot filled with hot coals and asked to take a coal and use it to light their fire. And then they were left there. At this point it was one o’clock in the afternoon. They would sit by themselves in the woods, with their thoughts, tending their fires, for 7 more hours before it would even start to get dark.
This was not a program. No money exchanged hands. This was a community recognizing that their boys were transitioning out of childhood and marking the moment in a conscious way. For the boys, it was a call to adventure, an ordeal that tested their self-reliance. For the parents, it was about revisiting the past to find a better way. For the community, it was about seeing the boys with new eyes.
What People Are Saying About “Tending Fires”
“Pitch perfect filmmaking. I just got to see this gem with an audience and people were oo-ing and ah-ing out loud. Me too. The “characters” in this documentary are so brave and human. Watching these parents try to do for their boys what so clearly was not done for them is heartbreaking. And beautiful.”
“What a gift this documentary is. I totally agree that young boys need such an experience, and that our culture does not have any such rites of passage built into it. Although we don’t have a son, we see our 11 year old daughter grappling with what it means to be young woman, and we see it as an exciting time for her and all of us. Thank you for a very beautiful and thought provoking film.”
“I saw your film this week at the film fest. It was really inspiring and got me thinking about how important it is to document these success stories to share and inspire others to build on these expressions of cultural renewal! I plan to get the DVD and share it with family and friends and clients, I’m a psychotherapist and so appreciate the powerful medium of film…beautiful.
“The editing of the footage was very interesting to me – I found the stark contrasts and hard cuts intriguing.”
“I very much enjoyed ‘Tending Fires’. Kept thinking about it for days after. My own boys had bar mitzvahs at 13, which required a lot of hard work and focus as well. Clearly these rituals help children mark their passage into adults.”
I loved that the film showed the ceremony through the eyes of the boys’ elders – the fathers and mothers, the brothers, uncles and grandfathers. It felt right to me that we not sit by the fire with each boy, intruding in his experience in the way that reality television pokes into every private moment. So much more real (really real, as opposed to real-ity, a word which American television seems to have changed into meaning real-ish) that we knew we were seeing into their experience in the only way possible, from a distance.”