The £15,000 cancer film set for Oscar glory

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The Independent Culture

A young British writer whose teenage cancer inspired his idea for a short film will be celebrating his birthday by attending the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on Sunday.

Tom Bidwell drew on the year he spent undergoing chemotherapy treatment in hospital for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to create the story of a terminally ill boy whose dying wish is to lose his virginity. Mr Bidwell said it was dismissed as the "worst idea I had ever had" by a close friend and rejected by the film festival in his adopted city of Leeds. But Wish 143 is now in the running for Best Live Action Short.

Costing just £15,000 to make, it tells the story of 15-year-old David, who has just a few months to live. David is contacted by a well-meaning make-a-wish charity, which asks him whether he wants to travel to Disneyland or come face to face with football star Gary Neville. Instead, he asks for an hour alone in the company of a naked woman.

Mr Bidwell, who will celebrate his 27th birthday by mingling with glamourous fellow nominees such as Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges and Natalie Portman, can only afford to travel to the United States courtesy of a career-development grant from his former secondary school in Leyland, Lancashire. He intends to pay back his old teachers by returning to hold workshops with pupils "for many years to come".

Once in California, he and director Ian Barnes will face competition from four other films, including another British short, The Confession. Previous winners of the prize include Martin McDonagh, Walt Disney and Jacques Cousteau.

Although it will be the biggest night of his life so far, the young writer insisted he was not taking preparations too seriously. "I'm hoping to have a good time and maybe get the chance to meet Danny Boyle, who is a local hero of mine," he said. "I suppose the film is kind of autobiographical, in the way that anything you write is, but I didn't try to sleep with a prostitute when I was ill," he added.

A former actor who trained with the BBC Drama Writers Academy, Mr Bidwell has written episodes of EastEnders, Casualty and Doctors. He has also worked in theatre and radio and is currently developing a series for Channel 4. The 22-minute Wish 143 was funded by the BBC's Film Network and the writer and director, who contributed their fees to the cost.

While refusing to give the end away, Mr Bidwell said he felt the urge to inject humour into a subject which can often be an extremely dark one. "You take the power out of something when you treat it with a bit of levity. I'm not saying cancer is not a serious condition, but once you start shining a bit of light on it it becomes a slightly less serious prospect. Often the more serious things are, the funnier they can get," he said.

He said it was initially difficult to attract funding until writer and director set about casting the film – recruiting veteran actors Jim Carter, Annette Badland and St Trinian's star Jodie Whittaker. Though set in Leeds, the filming took place in Bristol.