A new film championing working-class classical musicians is one of four short films commissioned by Sky Arts in recognition of Leeds Year of Culture.
The new films will be broadcast on Sky Arts on Tuesday 19 December at 10pm.
Sky Arts launched an opportunity earlier this year in partnership with Arts Council England, Leeds 2023, The Space and Studio12, asking artists to pitch ideas for a short film in response to the question: What’s worth fighting for?
Working Classical Heroes tells the powerful story of 23-year-old Leeds boxer, Ellis Arey, who grew up in a council estate and went on to study piano at Leeds Conservatoire.
The Harrogate-based Cause UK, a B Corp agency that specialises in supporting the arts, as well as curating cultural events, helped Ellis to pitch his remarkable story to Sky Arts.
Sisters Clair and Ann Challenor-Chadwick, who run Cause UK, then produced the film. The pair commissioned musician and conductor of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, Ben Crick, to write the original score, as well as filmmaker Katie Greenhalf, to direct and edit the 10-minute film.
The film culminates in a unique performance of the new composition.
Ellis won the 2022 Leeds Conservatoire Piano Competition sponsored by Besbrode Pianos, the UK’s largest piano store in Holbeck.
Clair Challenor Chadwick, director of Cause UK, explained how the idea came about: “Cause UK has worked with Melvin Besbrode, who runs Besbrode Pianos, for many years now. An artist himself, Melvin supports new talent who often come into his piano showroom and practice the piano. He told us about this working-class lad, Ellis, who was so unusual in the world of classical piano, because he was also a boxer. We knew he was destined to be the star of this film.”
Growing up with a single mum working multiple jobs to put food on the table, Ellis fell in love with classical music after his primary school played it at assembly. From a low-income family, he was eligible for a free music lesson and started learning piano at 11.When he was old enough, he worked part-time at the local Co-op to pay for private lessons.
Ellis said: “I don’t really look like a classical pianist. I certainly don’t talk like one or act like one.”
He took up boxing after being bullied at school.
He said: “I wanted to get tough. But as I started to get into it, boxing grounded me. Boxing has done more for me in terms of getting me on a good path than anything else has.”
Cause UK was recognised by the Arts Council as an infrastructure support agency for the arts after the pandemic. One of its projects was supporting the Skipton composer and conductor, Ben Crick, relaunch the newly reformed Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra to support freelance northern musicians.
Clair said: “Ben is a real advocate for Yorkshire, and passionate about classical music being accessible to all. He’s down to earth, the son of a council worker and a teacher and the grandson of a miner, so he was perfect to write a piece especially for Ellis, to celebrate working classical heroes.
Ellis is now in his third year at Leeds Conservatoire.
The three other Sky Arts films are:
Push Through, Push Through!
A dance film exploring coming of age in unprecedented times. Two friends navigate the night life of Leeds and grapple with their worries and dreams for the future.
An otherworldly mobile observatory journeys through the diverse communities of East Leeds, igniting conversations and inspiring hope for the future
The Last Day
On their last day of sixth from unlikely best friends confront change and the struggle to below. A heart-warming drama told through the lens of a first-generation immigrant form India in ‘90s Leeds.
View the trailer here.
About Cause UK
A leading PR agency, Cause UK is B Corp certified.
The Harrogate-based agency was established in 2010 by sisters, Clair, and Ann Challenor-Chadwick, and specialise in supporting organisations that have positive impact. Its clients operate in the arts, charity, social enterprise, and public sector. The team also supports ethical businesses.
Over the years, Cause UK has also helped create a social enterprise for veterans at risk of homelessness, raised over £1m for charities, and curated our own arts events, often aligned to a good cause.
Cause UK won Best PR Agency at the Prolific North Awards in 2021 and Best Independent Business Award at the 2022 Harrogate Advertiser Excellence in Business Awards.