Newcastle International Film Festival’s debut sees Schindler’s List star Caroline Goodall help bring international spotlight to city.
A touch of Hollywood glamour added sparkle to Wednesday’s launch of Newcastle International Film Festival .
The newly-announced festival – a first for the city – is set to turn the spotlight on the North East when it makes its debut next year.
Movie star Caroline Goodall flew in for the launch, starting the clock ticking on the countdown to the grand affair which will bring big names from across the world to Newcastle in a celebration of filmmaking.
The roof terrace of The Vermont hotel was the location for the action on a sunny Wednesday morning where the tone was set with a red carpet, movie memorabilia, Oscar-style gowns and tuxedos.
Hollywood actress Goodall – whose film credits include Cliffhanger; The Princess Diaries and Schindler’s List, in which she played Oskar’s wife – travelled over from her home in Italy for the occasion.
The British talent, who also has a house in LA – where she made her name in Steven Spielberg’s Hook; Hollywood’s first $12m film – was delighted to be a part of the ambitious event.
“It’s important to have a northern connection but also to reach out a little further,” she said.
“We need to have a film festival which not only can show the extraordinary talent in the North but also bring world cinema here as well.”
Preparations are already well underway for the festival – intended to be the first of an annual star-studded treat – to take place next year from March 29 to April 1 at venues – not just cinemas – across the city.
Its programme will range from features and shorts to documentaries and LGBT films, while regional talent will have a platform of its own.
It will include a filmmakers’ competition, while a special festival theme of “women’s issues” will highlight the achievements of women including local heroine Gertrude Bell.
Add a complementary programme of workshops, party events and a closing exclusive gala dinner and the festival is set to ignite the whole city over its four-day run.
The main emphasis is on having fun, says its director, North East business pioneer Jacqui Miller-Charlton.
The idea behind the festival initially came from media director and producer TJ Gill who was keen to showcase the ideal film locations of a region he has adopted as his home.
On meeting Miller-Charlton, the idea took off and now their “dream team” of organisers includes Kirsty Bell; another homegrown talent, with expertise in film finance and distribution.
In a few short months, the plan has snowballed and the festival’s Newcastle launch follows a promotion at Cannes on board a yacht which attracted huge interest and secured collaborations with filmmakers as far afield as Australia, South Africa, the US, China and in Bollywood.
Gill said: “We’ve already had 1,000 entries from 73 countries and we’re expecting 1,000, maybe 2,000, more.” These will be whittled down to around 200 by an independent panel of judges from around the world.
Miller-Charlton said the focus is on creating something for the people of the North East which will capture the essence of the region and its people and which will leave a legacy.
While some people have asked not only where is Newcastle but why Newcastle, she answered simply: “Why not?”, pointing out that Cannes Film Festival – which this year celebrated its 70th birthday – started as someone’s idea.
“We’ll achieve something which will make people feel proud,” she said.
Heavyweight backing comes from sponsor Goldfinch Entertainment and Dover Street Entertainment which have contributed millions to the film industry. And 33 Oscar and Grammy winners are said to be already involved.
It’s a more business-based than arts-based film festival which varies from others in terms of distribution links which means works will be promoted beyond its run.
That is Bell’s area of expertise and, having herself been forced to leave the North East to progress her career in London, she is keen to stem the leech of talent, lure people back and provide a continuity of employment.
But it’s also good news for the industry as a whole.
“The film industry is worth about £80bn to the UK and we have got to protect that – and grow it,” she said.
Bell also works with local actor Craig Conway in London-based production company BB88 and he too was back in Newcastle to support the launch.
With London over-burdened as the centre of filmmakers’ attention, he said Newcastle offers everything, in terms of location, in one spot.
The film, TV and stage star said: “London is packed and we need alternatives and this alternative is better suited to the industry.”
With a passionate team, and a mix of skills, behind it, the festival is now building upon its international interest while leaving space for plenty involvement from the region itself, including opportunities for local business sponsors and college and university students.
The next step is the programming, to attract not just industry experts, including screenwriters, producers and directors, but big name stars and wide audiences which in turn will boost visitor numbers and the local economy.
Chi Onwurah, who is standing as Labour Parliamentary candidate for Newcastle East and has siblings involved in the film industry, welcomed the event and said she would like to see city known as much for film as for football.
Ahead of the launch, other familiar local faces, including Jill Halfpenny and film director Neil Marshall, were also keen to show their support.
The ex-EastEnders actress, who was most recently seen on TV in the BBC’s hard-hitting three-part drama Three Girls, called her home city the perfect place to host a festival of film.
And Newcastle born and bred Marshall, who both wrote and directed Dog Soldiers and 2005 horror The Descent which co-starred Conway, called it “a very exciting proposal”.
He thinks the city is ready for its moment in the sun and said: “I think it’s high time in terms of how much Newcastle and the North East in general has given the world as far as the arts are concerned.”
Proud of his family’s Geordie roots – he revealed it was his granddad who designed the famous blue star logo for New Brown Ale – he said it is an “honour” to support the festival.
“I want to be part of it,” he said.