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Young film makers call action at Newcastle's Castle Keep as part of BFI Academy project

Beacon Hill Arts is working with a crew of young people with learning disabilities to make a film they've written themselves

High drama unfolded at the Castle Keep in Newcastle when a member of the royal security team was thrown out of a top floor window... by a feisty fairy called Mandy.

This was the last day of filming on The Fairy and the Bodyguard, a three-minute story which has been written, filmed and performed by young members of Beacon Hill Arts’ (BHA) BFI Film Academy, who all have learning disabilities.

The story sees Mandy (Issy Wheeler, 17) - a fairy with a keen sense of justice as well as ambitions to become the King’s bodyguard - outing baddie Count Arthur Bulldog (Rowan Simpson, 17) - the King’s current body man - as a thief when she discovers the dastardly villain is behind the disappearance of the Princess’ necklace.

Following a successful day of filming last Sunday, the 11-strong cast and crew, who are all aged between 16 and 19, reassembled in Newcastle city centre to work their way through shooting the rest of the script.

“It’s been going really well,” said Michelle Fox, BHA’s head of production. “Everyone here has been involved in every aspect of making the film so far, from developing the story and the script, to putting together the shooting schedule - although there were a few too many breaks in there!”

Having used photographs of the Castle Keep as inspiration when they were developing the storyline and characters for the film, the cast and crew were thrilled when they were given permission to use the historic building as the backdrop for the action.

“Thanks to the staff at the Castle Keep and the Black Gate, we’ve been able to use this building, which is just a fantastic place to film,” added Michelle. “We’re also really lucky because as well as the current members of the Film Academy, we’ve got lots of volunteers helping out from previous years too.”

As well as the main feature, filming was also going on for a behind-the-scenes documentary, which is being made by past alumni of the Academy. Meanwhile another graduate, photographer Connor Rathbone, 23, who has been working with BHA over the past four years, was taking photographs.

The production is the third to come out of the BHA BFI Film Academy - one of around 40 organisations nationwide involved in the prestigious initiative backed by BAFTA, Pinewood Studios and Skillset to support the filmmaking aspirations of young people aged 16-19. The BHA initiative is unique in its specific aim to support the creative ambitions of young people with learning disabilities, autism or other additional needs.

“It can be a life-changing experience for the young people involved,” said Michelle. “We place high expectations on them in terms of production values and hard work, and they always meet them. It’s a really rewarding project for everyone involved.”

The premiere of The Fairy and the Bodyguard will take place at Gateshead Old Town Hall at a special evening of screenings on March 14. After that, it will be entered into film festivals all over the world, offering the young film makers the chance to truly put their work on an international stage.

* For more information, visit www.beaconhillarts.org

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