I am sitting with entrepreneur Jacqui Miller at a table on the outside patio of the Grand Hyatt Martinez Hotel in Cannes while the well known film festival is in full swing.
Next to us, cameras are pointed at a group of fashion models filming their conversation as they flick through the pages of glossy magazines.
Just yards away, scores of photographers are scrambling around the entrance to the hotel’s reception as a limousine pulls up, while security guards attempt to hold a large crowd of onlookers at bay.
It is just another day in Cannes at the 70th annual film festival, where it is hard not to feel like you are an extra in a movie production.
These distractions are short-lived, however. Miller is enthusiastically presenting the vision for the Newcastle Film Festival, coming in 2018 to her home city – which she clearly adores.
And in many respects, what is happening in Cannes is all part of the inspiration for a venture that has big, global ambitions.
Miller is president of the festival – a role she accepted after festival co-founder and technical director TJ Gill had considered a “soft launch” for the event this year based on his extensive experience as an independent film maker and involvement with the New Delhi Film Festival in India.
“There is no such thing as a soft launch,” said Miller. “From a business perspective, you will be judged by the first thing you do – there are no second chances to make a good first impression.”
She is direct and bold in describing her vision and – against the backdrop of Cannes, where a pitch is pretty much the second agenda item after breakfast – makes more than a solid case for creating a new destination in the global movie festival road map.
Why Newcastle is the question that comes instantly to mind, but before we get to that, let’s look at the Miller back story.
Along with her two brothers, Miller helped to create a global brand with Miller International – specialising in construction attachment manufacturing for the construction, quarrying and mining industries.
Niche you may think, but it’s seriously big business and Miller International has definitely positively disrupted the industry – so much so, that the company is in the midst of a long-running legal dispute “which is a story for another day”, Jacqui explains.
These days, since Miller took the decision to step aside from day-to-day operational activities with the family business, she has become involved in many and varied business and mentoring opportunities – and, for various achievements, was a previous First Women Awards finalist (among many other accolades).
“My philosophy is if you reach for the stars and get to the moon, then it’s not too bad,” Miller said. “It’s how I am looking at the Newcastle Film Festival, we want to put the region on the global map for a cultural contribution and we want to involve literally everybody.”
As we sit, surveying Cannes with its decades of experience as a film festival destination for the world’s movie makers, Miller starts to unveil what Newcastle can offer.
“The city is embracing what we want to achieve, from the City Council to various businesses and other organisations, we have hit some kind of sweet spot, a zeitgeist moment for Newcastle,” said Miller.
She added: “Newcastle has been a forgotten city on the cultural map, but there is a vibrant media and creative community here.
“Every other part of the country has staked a claim with their own cultural events calendar, and now it’s time for Newcastle – but this isn’t about ‘me too’.
“Cannes is a wonderful place to get inspiration, but everything here needs a badge or your name to be on a VIP list – in Newcastle, we want to invite the whole city; we want the whole city to feel like VIPs.”
Among the ideas currently in the frame for the Newcastle version of Cannes is to open the doors to the region’s schools for active involvement, and the inaugural theme for the first festival is famous international women and women’s issues.
Organisers will encourage contributions to the festival from all groups within the community – as well as further afield internationally – in order to offer visitors side events and attractions that display the City’s rich cultural mix and social history.
“We want to project Newcastle and the North East of England to the world – and our ambition is for the film industry in time to see us on a scale right up there with Cannes. We are all committed to making this deliver a huge boost to the regional economy that creates a magical legacy for years to come,” Miller said.
Prior to any official announcement, the festival has already received more than 800 applications informally to enter films from around the world, and the number is rising daily.
Two major sponsors from within the UK independent film industry have already come forward and committed support and funding to the festival: Yorkshire-based GSP Studios, a film production and specialist visual effects company, and Goldfinch Entertainment, which is both an executive producer and financier of film and media projects.
Newcastle City Council is also backing the event, along with Gateshead College – which was the very first organisation on any type to jump on board.
Kirsty Bell, Goldfinch Entertainment’s managing director and also a Newcastle Film Festival board member, said: “This is fantastic for Newcastle and will shine a long overdue spotlight on the region’s creative talent. The North East of England has a great film heritage and has been a popular location for iconic films such as ‘Get Carter’ and ‘Harry Potter’. The festival will help send this message out to the world.”
Lynda Cope, owner of Accolade Films, who was in Cannes closing finance on a number of her company’s films, said: “It’s about time Newcastle and the North East of England had a focal point for its cultural contribution and the film festival is a great idea.
“The region is an ideal location for global companies to converge and celebrate the art of film making and opening up the event more widely to the local community is a wonderful way to connect people with creative aspirations.”
The Newcastle Film Festival will open its doors from 29 March 2018.