RITE OF PASSAGE is an in-depth
look at the practice of piercing the body and its meanings to different
peoples around the globe. The film takes the viewer from the fashionable,
youth-oriented body piercing fad found in the US to the most remote
parts of Africa and South Asia, where piercing the body represents
religious devotion, marital status and tribal identity.
The film begins at New York Adorned in lower Manhattan, one of the
trendiest piercing studios and dealer of exotic tribal jewelry.
Here we meet body piercer Jon Guac, who will take us through his
day of "extreme" piercings. Jon, who as a child was inspired
by his father's National Geographic magazines, has spent years stretching
his earlobes to mimic the nomadic tribes of East Africa.
The film follows Jon's incredible journey into the southernmost
part of Ethiopia where he encounters the Mursi, an entire tribe
that looks just like him. Here, deep in the Omo Valley, we witness
the ritual piercing of a young boy's ears as he is welcomed to manhood
and the lip plate piercing of a young girl about to be wed. Jon's
encounter with the tribe that have inspired his life is an emotional
one, as he learns that for these people, piercing the body is one
of the ways the tribe maintains its identity and culture in an age
of increasing globalization.
As Jon's journey ends, another begins. From Africa we travel East
and into the jungles of Sri Lanka. Here, we catch up with an extremely
colorful group of swamis, monks and Europeans who are making their
40-day pilgrimage to the jungle town of Kataragama. Here, devotees
of Murugan pay penance and fulfill vows by engaging in kavadi which
includes radical acts of piercing: Muslim Fakirs pierce their heads
and tongues and Hindus hang from trees suspended by hooks. It is
in this frenzied environment that we meet Dinah Barton, a British
woman who has left home to engage in Kavadi for the god she now
worships. Her spiritual journey through the help of Tamil devotee
Sandana illustrates the use of piercing as an offering to one's
From Sri Lanka we return home to America to look for our own spiritual
traditions involving piercing. The Native American Sundance ceremony
in South Dakota--where Lakota peoples fast and dance for 4 days--culminates
in piercing the flesh. Natives pierce their nipples, hang buffalo
skulls from the wound and run until the flesh breaks. The flesh
will be offered to the Creator on the giving tree. Through photos,
interviews with Lakota chiefs and archive footage, the sacred and
secret practice will be revealed.
The influence of Native American, African and Asian piercing traditions
culminates in Texas, where we end our film. Here, the members of
TSD - Traumatic Stress Discipline fight boredom and spiritual inertia
through radical acts of body suspensions, which they say, strengthens
their minds and bodies. Essie, Pat, Alan and Ron have gathered from
across the country to suspend one another from shark hooks. Their
intense experiences, both positive and negative unfold here.