There was a ‘twist’ in the tale for performing arts students when they were joined on the set of their latest movie by a descendant of Charles Dickens.
“Olivia Twist” is a contemporary re-telling of the Dickens classic being shot during the author’s bicentenary year by The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy (BYFA) - giving students a ‘reel’ chance to shine.
Filming is taking place during the five weeks of the school summer holidays and is based at Stoke on Trent College’s Performing Arts campus where, surprised students were captivated and engaged when Lucinda Hawksley, great, great, great, grand-daughter of the author, joined them on set to deliver workshops, talks, insight …and a cameo appearance in the film.
BYFA is backed by The Co-operative whose £1.2m six year partnership forms an integral part of its commitment to inspiring young people. Mentored by professionals from the world of film and education, “Olivia Twist” involves up to 200 students as cast and crew who are offered everything from acting to make-up, wardrobe to camera and, post-production through to the red carpet experience.
Taking on the lead role of Olivia in her first ever film, 18 year-old Ellie Mahyoub from Worsley, Greater Manchester – a Performing Arts student based at the Shena Simon Campus of The Manchester College, said: “I am really excited and nervous at the same time – it’s a big deal! I came along for a general audition and was asked to come back and audition for the role of “Olivia” - it’s my first film and I don’t want it to end.”
Playing Bill Sikes, one of Dickens’ more vicious characters, Jordan Daws, 21, said: “It’s a great role to play, the first ‘nasty’ character that I have played so I am looking forward to the challenge. This is my fourth film and I would recommend BYFA to anyone who wants to be involved in film, both in front of or behind the camera – the academy offers young people the chance to take part in any area of film production.”
Natalie Keenan, 20, played brassy barmaid Betsy in the film, added: “I never thought that I’d get involved in acting but when I had my baby girl – who is now two and had a cameo appearance in the film – it spurred me on to do something and make her proud. This is my first film role and one of the best opportunities I have ever been given, I hope that it is a springboard for the future.”
Lucinda Hawksley spent a day at the shoot while en-route to Edinburgh where she is speaking at the Edinburgh Festival and introducing her latest book “Charles Dickens" which is described as a special celebration of the bicentenary of the author’s birth.
Lucinda Hawksley, said: “I had such a good day with The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy – the students were so enthusiastic and interesting and I even got to be a film extra!
“I was bowled over by how willing the students were to learn about Dickens and the changes he helped to bring about in Victorian Britain - they tended to know something about Dickens' work, but they didn't know about his life or his social campaigning.
“The workshop led to spirited debates about what the students would like to see changed both in their local communities and around the world. Some had begun the day with the belief that just one person can't make a difference, but by the end they were citing examples of actions that had inspired them – they also talked about things they could do to help to make a difference.”
Michael Fairclough, The Co-operative’s Head of Community and Co-operative Investment, said: “When opportunities, passion and enthusiasm collide it is truly life changing – exactly the kind of exciting environment that BYFA creates. Our work with BYFA is giving young people new opportunities to gain the skills, knowledge and experiences to be pioneers for their generation, and helping to bring about a cultural shift in the way young people are viewed and treated in this country, a key objective of The Co-operative’s commitment to inspiring young people.”
The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy is itself a co-operative whose membership consists of colleges and universities.
It gives 14-25 year-olds unique opportunities to experience the thrills and challenges of a real film set. Its philosophy of ‘learning through doing’ twins vocational experience with students' academic studies and, what’s more, it’s fun! Students or colleges wanting further information about BYFA should visit www.britishyouthfilmacademy.com
FILM SYNOPSIS: “OLIVIA TWIST” is set in contemporary times and based in Stoke. Olivia, an orphan from Afghanistan is on the run and finds shelter with Bob Fagin and his gang of thieves and mercenaries. She is put to the test and is challenged to fight for her freedom and protect her innocence – this adaptation stays true to the gritty tone and social commentary underlying the original classic novel by Charles Dickens - unlocking the influence of Dickens for a new generation.
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