Ben is a 14-year-old boy with no interest in playing handball at lunch, or rugby on the weekends.
In Ben’s own words, he “loves filming and movies”.
His special interest is Back to the Future, and he has a knack for impersonations.
When Ben talks about movies, he speaks with the confidence of a seasoned academic.
Ben also has autism.
Tonight, after much ado, Tropfest will screen in Sydney’s Centennial Park.
It is the world’s largest short film festival, where 16 finalists will have their films broadcast live to an audience of at least 100,000 people across Australia.
‘Ben’s Filming the Movie’ is one of the finalists, and 14-year-old Benjamin Howard is the star.
The films will be judged by a panel of industry heavyweights, including Mel Gibson, Simon Baker and Rebecca Gibney.
But back to Ben.
Ben goes to school in Sydney’s West as part of ASPECT, a leading service provider for people on the autism spectrum. His teacher, Mr Alex Rowe, passionately believes that drama is a powerful way to help young people with autism.
Alex says that drama “enhances social and group collaboration skills, and allows creative exploration using voice and physicality”. He argues that the number one priority for young people with autism should be social skills, as it prepares them for life after school.
Rowe’s background is in drama, and in 2012, he started Big Fish Drama Studio, with the mission to “strengthen self esteem, self-confidence and social skills…with the exploration of imagination through drama”.
It is nothing short of serendipitous that in 2015, movie-buff Ben became one of Rowe’s small group of students. In September 2015, Alex invited his friend Jackson Gallagher to watch Ben perform. Gallagher is a film maker, and along with Andrea Browne, the three of them embarked on Ben’s dream project.