Independent movie producer/director Frederick Marx shared the life philosophy and passion for social change that guide his filmmaking with a Rotary Club of Los Altos audience March 27.
In his documentary “Rites of Passage: Mentoring the Future,” Marx emphasizes how important it is for teens to experience positive and meaningful rites of passage and receive mentorship into adulthood.
According to Marx, many societies lead adolescent boys through a rite of passage, an initiation or a personal trial period guided by mature men. This trial and guidance is not only absent from American culture, but also many men in the U.S. continue in “suspended adolescence and live out their teen years unconsciously,” he said.
Marx recalled how at age 9 he was told that he was now the “man of the house” after his father suddenly died. His struggle to grow into that role led to youthful excesses, including driving too fast and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
The ManKind Project, a nonprofit educational organization with international reach, opened his eyes in 1995 and transformed his life – at age 40. He participated in a weekend “pro-social, healthy rite of passage” for a small group of adolescent boys guided by a group of adult men. The male role models taught integrity – what you say you will do, you actually do – and emotion. Young men generally believe that they should not express emotion, but when they become “emotionally real” to others, it frees them to become productive, Marx said.
The ManKind experience teaches adolescents to recognize and accept their own darkness, or “shadow,” in neo-Jungian terms, Marx said. The adage “He who dies with the most toys wins” is not the way to joy – service, not consumption of material goods, is the key to joy, he added.
Marx, who has been nominated for both Academy and Emmy awards, said his mission statement is “Bear witness and create change.”
He encourages adult men to mentor teenage boys to address the pervasive social problem of reckless, dysfunctional youth. The filmmaker’s numerous projects focus on disadvantaged and misunderstood communities, he said, including people of color, abused children, the working poor, welfare recipients, prisoners, the elderly and at-risk youth.
His films “Hoop Dreams” and “Boys to Men?” expose teens’ dire situations and explore his commitment to the well-being of youth. “Rites of Passage” suggests solutions, offering inspiration to supply the needed mentoring.
Marx said he imagines a world where teens are mentored to recognize their own physical and mental limits so that they don’t have to test themselves by driving too fast or abusing drugs and alcohol. He seeks a world where adolescents feel welcomed by adults, and parents have the confidence to let them go independently, to later return welcomed as co-equals.
For more information on “Rites of Passage,” visit warriorfilms.org.
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.