The North East International Film Festival (NEIFF) is the first festival to be awarded the Raising Films Ribbon. Lisa-Marie Tonelli founded the festival during the pandemic and NEIFF went online in 2020, with the inaugural festival taking place later this year.
Lisa explains more about how the festival came to be, the ethos behind it and what Lisa and the festival team are trying to achieve… Over to Lisa!
“I founded NEIFF three months into my maternity leave with my son, Teddy. I’d been working as a freelance producer on independent films for a couple of years, with my own project currently on the festival circuit. There were a couple of things I noticed on submitting my work to these festivals. The first being a huge gap in the market and with that an incredible opportunity to host a film related event, such as a film festival, in my hometown in the North East.
Newcastle appeared to be one of the few major UK cities that didn’t hold an annual international film festival. The North East of England is without a doubt one of the most striking regions in the UK, with more than its fair share of iconic buildings and landmarks, so it’s no surprise that it’s starred in numerous TV shows and films over the years, from Hollywood action films to thrilling crime dramas, the North East has certainly played its part in cinematic history! I believe that Newcastle and the North East is a special place for the film industry; the birth place of many movie stars and directors and with its landscapes of rugged coastlines, stunning beaches and lush countryside, it’s a location scout’s dream. The North East also hosts a wealth of incredible talent and is known for its culture and innovation.
The second thing that struck me was that the festivals that I was submitting my film to appeared, to me, to be a little too genre specific and there was a real scarcity of all inclusive festivals where you could not only submit a horror film but also an LGBTQ+ film for example.
When planning NEIFF it was incredibly important to me to put together a diverse, collaborative and inclusive event and to include as wide a range of submission categories as possible as well as the standard categories. These include more diverse categories aimed at groups or communities that may have been previously under represented in the industry, such as our Visible category which represents disability in all its forms, plus many more. NEIFF is one of around 80 festivals worldwide to adopt the F-Rating, representing females in film and the first EVER film festival to sign up to the BBC 50/50 Equality Project, making that organisational commitment to diversity.
I created this festival to be all inclusive, a place where everyone is represented, every voice is heard and all opinions matter
Of course the creation of this new festival located in the North East was not without challenge. I‘m a new mother, suffering with various spinal issues and the festival came into being during a pandemic.
Fortunately I’m surrounded by the incredible NEIFF team! The team comprises five people who are the most patient, positive and pro-active individuals I could ever wish for and they volunteer their very precious time, knowledge and skills to ensuring NEIFF is the very best it can be.
Ana is our Head of Programming and is also a mother to two lovely boys, Thomas and Ivo, who are 10 and 3. Ana is also the World Programmer for Indie Film Fest in the US and a volunteer for one of our fantastic venues, The Star & Shadow Cinema. Ian also works full time and is a Senior Critic for Cinecentric, he keeps our spirits high and is always on the ball. Sofia has a super busy schedule as a student and she also volunteers for various festivals and Ankit is our international consultant who works alongside various festivals in India.
The NEIFF team all work from home and collectively we maintain a considerate approach to each other’s commitments and schedules. We’re aware of each other’s general diary schedules and work around those small pre-planned windows in time when we are all available for scheduled meetings. Team meetings are organised in advance and only when all team members can be present. This can be tricky as although four of us are based in the North East, Ankit is based in India so we have to be mindful of this.
Team meetings are always extremely relaxed and it’s lovely when Ana’s boys join us for a Zoom. Once certain restrictions are lifted and we are able to conduct our meetings face-to-face, the intention is to host them in a child friendly environment.
A lot of our work is unplanned and we all have a pretty full daytime regime and so we agree to switch our Slack chat to snooze until a reasonable hour. As this is a new festival quite often things don’t go to plan, when this happens we go back to our core objectives and re-plan the milestones. We offer each other support and flexibility and are confident and comfortable in dividing up our tasks. As a result we have an extremely good working relationship.
Recruitment was not something that strategically took place, it was a very happy coincidence and something that happened early on in the festival planning. I was incredibly fortunate that through my partnerships with the University, our chosen venues and the launch of the NEIFF website, I could connect with people who were aligned with my vision and excited by the concept of the festival. None of us knew each other beforehand, I think I’m the only native of the North East and we have all come together from entirely different places, but we all share the same goals and aspirations for the festival.
There is a non-heirarchal structure to the NEIFF team, we all have our individual strengths but still share responsibility. I’m a strong believer that a leadership team should filter down and reflect the organisational ethos. I’m extremely open with the others and like to discuss every new development, I seek their opinions before making any decisions and we move forward on a general consensus.
I created this festival to be all inclusive, a place where everyone is represented, every voice is heard and all opinions matter and this is exactly the approach taken in the NEIFF team.”
This year’s NEIFF will take place between Friday 19 and Sunday 21 November 2021. At time of writing submissions are open!
Find out more about the festival on the NEIFF website