Teneille Newallo is a writer, producer and actress from Trinidad and Tobago. Recently, she was selected as one of two local women filmmakers (the other was Juliette McCawley) to attend the Birds Eye View Film Festival in London, an international festival dedicated to women filmmakers, courtesy the British Council. Here Newallo talks briefly with ttff editorial director Jonathan Ali about her experience.
Jonathan Ali: How did you come to be selected to attend the Birds Eye View Film Festival?
Teneille Newallo: The trinidad+tobago film festival gave me a call and told me the British Council had contacted them and were looking for two female filmmaker delegates to send to Birds Eye View, to represent female filmmakers from Trinidad and Tobago. I was selected to be one of the two, to be fully funded by the British Council.
JA: Had you heard of Birds Eye View before?
TN: I actually had not. When I looked it up I realised that it was actually doing some fantastic things for women filmmakers. It appeared to have a good attendance, which proved be true when I went there. It was very well organised.
JA: Could you say something about the festival itself? The mission?
TN: The mission of the festival is to promote women filmmakers from around the world, since the majority of filmmakers internationally are men—over ninety per cent I believe. So it’s basically to encourage female filmmakers, so that they have their own voice as well in the filmmaking market.
JA: What did the festival comprise of?
TN: They showed international shorts, they had British shorts, they showed feature films, and they were all either produced, written or directed by women. The festival also gives women filmmakers a lot of opportunities to meet with one another and hear and share different stories from their filmmaking experiences, some of which would be unique compared to men. It gave us the opportunity to share our work with one another as well, and network with distributors, people that run different film festivals internationally, things like that.
JA: You went to Birds Eye View with a project you’re working on. Could you say something about the project, and what the response was like?
TN: I went with a feature fiction project called The Cutlass, which is based on the true story of a kidnapping of a Trinidadian woman in a Trinidadian forest by a sociopath. At the end of the entire festival is when we actually shared our films with one another, after we’d gotten to know one another very well. We all only had six minutes to share whatever we wanted. So I decided I would show the first six minutes of our film, and when my time was up, nobody wanted to stop it [laughs]. They wanted to keep watching to see what happens next. They were all very interested and we all decided to keep in touch to share our work and keep supporting one another.
JA: What did you find most eye-opening about the festival?
TN: That women are very talented filmmakers, and there are quite a few of us! More than I expected. Looking at some of the short films I was highly impressed. Obviously they selected the best of the best for the festival, but there was some terrific work that blew me away, and that was just among the British shorts. And just learning from women that have been in the industry for a while. We watched Bhaji on the Beach (1994) by Gurinder Chadha [director of Bend it like Beckham]. She was there, with the cast. It was lovely to see a pioneer woman filmmaker like her come so far and watch that film—even though it was made so long ago it’s still incredible. It had the audience in stiches.
JA: What happens now for you and your film?
Our main priority right now is raising the rest of the funds we need to shoot the feature, which we’re well on our way to doing. A lot of good things came out of this trip, but the best thing was meeting a distributor, Soda Pictures, possibly interested in our film and in distributing it throughout the UK. [Soda Pictures are the distributors of ttff/13 opening film Half of a Yellow Sun.]
TN: Finally, any advice for young women filmmakers out there?
I would first off say don’t even consider yourself a woman filmmaker, just consider yourself a filmmaker. Work hard. It’s not an easy industry to be in so you have to love what you’re doing. You have to do your research, you have to put your hard work into it. Nothing’s going to fall out of the sky for you. You might have to work a tad bit harder, being a woman, but don’t even put yourself in that mindset. Do the hard work and everything will fall into place.