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Ben Jeans Houghton commissioned to produce short film

Newcastle artist Ben Jeans Houghton is to broaden his artistic horizons thanks to national scheme The Artist's Cut as Barbara Hodgson reports

A scene from Ben Jeans Houghton's short film titled Still Life
A scene from Ben Jeans Houghton's short film titled Still Life

A Newcastle artist with a film-maker’s eye for detail could be set to follow in the award-winning footsteps of 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen.

Ben Jeans Houghton, whose creative talents take in sculpture, installation, drawing and performanceas well as photography and film, has been signalled out in a national scheme called The Artist’s Cut set up to nurture “bold new voices” in film-making. He is one of two artists in the country being commissioned to produce a short film with a budget of £5,000.

The scheme is inspired by the likes of McQueen, himself an artist-turned-filmmaker who built upon the success of his debut feature Hunger with second film Shame and now the Oscar-nominated (in nine categories) 12 Years a Slave, which again features Michael Fassbender, his two-times leading man.

Ben has certainly started out on the right path to success with his attention-grabbing Still Life, one of 10 three-minute local film commissions - on a range of subjects - by Baltic, working with creative industry development agency Northern Film & Media and Channel 4’s Random Acts programme.

The film, a story about a man who makes a person out of mud, was shown at the Gateshead gallery in November. Ben said at the time: “The film is about folklore, the internet, sculpture and responsibility among other things. A young man collects mud from a river bank in the early morning before walking home through woodland while listening to Vietnamese folk poetry recorded in the 70’s. Once home he gets to work continuing to sculpt a figure from the mud that is sitting in a paddling pool in his bedroom.”

With the help of Arts Council funding and support from European Regional Development Fund, NF&M and Baltic have since teamed up for The Artist’s Cut, in what Baltic’s deputy director Agnes Wilkie said is a “very exciting and significant new stage” in their unique partnership to develop local talent.

It means that Ben and the second artist, Sophie Mitchell from London, will each now have a £5,000 budget to make to develop their short narratives into longer projects for film or TV and they are currently taking part in mentoring programmes to help them on the way.

Ben called The Artist’s Cut “an invaluable opportunity to build on our own visual languages and methodologies” and Agnes added: “To be working with talented young artists of the calibre of Sophie and Ben at the start of a journey which could see them one day dazzling Hollywood in the style of Steve McQueen is incredibly thrilling.”

The programme is set to broaden the artists’ horizons with workshops covering every aspect of film-making from storytelling, script-development and cinematography to directing and distribution and among their mentors will be Samm Haillay of North East-based Third Films and script editor Kate Leys who has worked on such film hits as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Trainspotting and The Full Monty.

Roxy Bramley, creative manager of NF&M, said: “The Artist’s Cut is providing a structured, industry-focused development opportunity for two artists to explore the narrative aspects of their work and how to realise them on screen.

“We’re really excited about enabling these two brilliant talents to develop this new aspect to their work and look forward to what they’re going to produce.”

Another success story from an artist-turned-filmmaker was Self Made, the directorial debut by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing which NF&M invested in.

It was shot in the North East and co-produced by Third Films then had showings at leading contemporary art galleries across the world.


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