Tending Fires

Coming of Age Documentary

"Tending Fires” is a documentary about the inner workings of a rite of passage experience created for 7 adolescent boys in the Hudson Valley. It interviews the boys' parents as well as the multi-generational circle of men who helped create it, and it explores the larger themes for community when culture is created.

 The rite of passage experience created for the boys asked them to keep a fire going over a twenty-four hour period while alone on a mountain in the Catskills of NY.  They had water but no food, electronics or other objects that could distract them from their task.  While this experience was a culmination of a wilderness program, most of the boys had never known such isolation -- or as one father puts it "He's never been anything like alone for twenty-four hours."

 Interviews include cultural mentor Mark Morey of the Institute for Natural Learning who has facilitated rite of passage experiences for over 20 years, Wilderness Instructor Charles Purvis, and actor and parent Michael Gaston among others. Thank you for your interest in this movie and these coming of age ideas.




Keep a fire going alone in the woods for 24 hours.

“Tending Fires” is a documentary about a solo wilderness challenge that was offered to 7 adolescent boys in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.  It looks at the role of rite of passage in a community, how it is held by members of the “extended family” and its effect on parents.   78 minutes long.



written, directed and edited by PETER FERLAND



"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."

"One of the fathers in your film struck me as very wise when he said that while he anticipated "drama" among the young men, that it was merely his projection of that drama. To my thinking, your film did not purport a panacea to the challenges of raising adolescents, but more remarked on the value of bringing awareness to the growth of young men."


"The editing of the footage was very interesting to me - I found the stark contrasts and hard cuts intriguing."


"I was keenly aware that, as a culture, we are predisposed now to "reality TV" and there was an expectation for the cameras to be right there in the kids' faces, but I intuitively understood how this would have interfered with the meaning and integrity of the ceremony itself."


"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."


 "As a father myself, I experienced emotion when one of the mothers talked about the detaching process. I understand and expect it - but probably can't really imagine it yet. Still, her comment that such detachment was "bittersweet," was, to me, the heart of the film."

about us

"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."


"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."





Addison Independent

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Middlebury native to present wilderness rite of passage documentary 'Tending Fires'

by Andrea Suozzo


MIDDLEBURY - Picture this: 12 and 12 year-old boys heading into the Catskill Mountains to tend a fire alone for 24 hours. It might sound like a rite of passage from an earlier age, a challenge set for boys who might one day live on the animals they trapped or the edible plants they gathered. This scene, though, thakes place in August of 2009 and forms the central narrative of Peter Ferland's documentary "Tending Fires," which he will screen at Bridge School in Middlebury this Saturday at 7 p.m.


The Vermont-born writer and filmmaker, a 1986 graduate of Middlebury Union High School, said the rite of passage sprung from a wilderness program in which he and his son participated.  The program, based in the mountains near Ferland's New Paltz, N.Y., home, brings young boys, ages 9-13, into the woods to learn nature skills like plant identification and fire making.


As boys outgrew the program, Ferland said, there was a sense that they needed some kind of challenge, a ritual that would mark the transition from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.  Thus came the idea of sending each boy into the woods to tend a fire.


"It's on the threshold of this new way of being," said Ferland.  "It's really about independence -- as an adolescent you're starting to push against the family unit, but what adolescents don't know  is how to take care of themselves."  So a group came together to create an experience that would give the boys responsibility, place them in an unknown situation and foster independence and deep thought.  Along the way, they would have mentors who weren't their parents.  "At a certain point, a parent's effectiveness in the life of a teenager comes to an end," said Ferland.  "But why don't the other members of the community step in and set challenges (for the teen)?  If we're all in concert from the beginning, that's a resilient model for a social system."


Ferland signed on to help.  Along with him was Charles Purvis, founder and leader of a number of wilderness immersion programs in the area.  Mark Morey, who runs Vermont Wilderness School in Brattleboro and has run a number of rites of passage, signed on to help, as did a number of other community members.


"The boys are excellent, but they're starting to push back," Ferland said.  "We had influence that the parents didn't have."  But creating a whole new ritual wasn't easy.  "Indigenous cultures tending to have some time set aside for the adolescents," he said. "Now there's a lot of trial and error, because a lot of these rituals are lost."


And there were mixed feelings from the parents, said Ferland -- some had older children who had done similar things, but others were nervous. "He's never been alone for 24 hours.  He's never been anything like alone for 24 hours," one of the fathers says in the trailer.




While Ferland had never tackled a full length film on his own, he's written a number of film and television scripts and humor pieces and worked as a writer's assistant on the show "Frasier."


And Ferland said as the idea for the rite of passage developed, it struck him as an ideal theme and structure for a film.  "It was a wonderful moment, worthy of documenting," he said.  "The boys go up to the mountains, are up there for 24 hours, then they return and rejoin the group.  That's a narrative structure for a documentary."  Add to that his existing knowledge of the subjects, and Ferland said he had a good starting point for the film.


There were choices Ferland had to make -- he didn't film the boys in the woods, since it would have added a level of self-awareness that would have changed the experience.  "Equally important was the community at large coming together and witnessing that change," said Ferland.


For the film, Ferland focused on the effects of the experience on the teens, the families and their community, from before the ritual to a potluck several months later, when each boy shared his experiences.  The sharing wasn't important only for the boys, said Ferland -- it was just as important for the community to understand and respect the journey that the boys had been on.


After the potluck, Ferland put the footage away.  "It was partly because I felt too close to the subject to be able to process it in a meaninful way, and partly to preserve the boys' experiences for themselves," said Ferland.


He screened an early copy a couple of months ago at the Green Mountain Film Festival, and he also showed a rough cut at the College of the Atlantic.  Now, Ferland has a more finalized cut, which he'll be showing at Bridge School this weekend.


november 30, 2009


A Mentoring Culture Nourishing the Next Generation

by Lorrie Klosterman


Rites of passage

Peter Ferland got involved with Track and Sign as one of the fathers supporting last year’s rites of passage weekend, for the boys who were ready to be seen and celebrated as coming into adulthood. He was intrigued by the idea of the mentoring and the ceremony for his boys, now ages 7 and 11. Like many parents today, Ferland had no such thing during his adolescence. “No one was really there for me,” he sums up. “That’s something that’s missing in our culture. There is even this stigma that teenagers are horrible—and to be fair, they can be—but they are trying on a lot of different attitudes and personalities, and their brain chemistry is changing drastically. They are not supported through this by the cultural attitude—there is just this blank spot.”

So instead, Ferland is one of those men guiding the evolution of these young people, with deep caring. He and the other mentors meet regularly
to share observations about how things seem to be going for the boys. “We don’t try to orchestrate change within them,” says Ferland, “but we pay attention, and see ways in which, for example, a boy might be habitually reluctant to try something new, or seem to have a hard time being fully present. We could then see if there was an activity that would be useful or challenging for that boy.”

Ferland was one among several men who, a few weeks ago, formed a circle of support honoring boys as they came down off their 24-hour solo in the mountains, as part of their weekend-long rites of passage. Ferland is
making a film about it, but was clear he didn’t want to record boys on their solos. He will record the boy’s public presentations at a community sharing about what they have learned, but he is equally intrigued by the effect on the community.

“We were not just putting them through an experience,” says Ferland. “It’s also about the larger community paying attention. There were thirty men sitting in a circle for seven boys when they came off that mountain, including many men not related to them who are interested in their welfare and in the larger project. We even had a group of women who came to the site beforehand and did a 24-hour fire, who didn’t know the boys but felt moved to honor the spirit of the land in preparation for their process.”


Read the entire article here: