“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
As she prepared to head off to England to represent T&T, the Sunday Guardian caught up with busy 29-year-old Teneille Newallo, who before long, hopes to become a household name in T&T as she further forges her name on the film scripting, acting and producing fronts. “A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from the T&T Film Festival stating that the British Council would like to send two female filmmakers to the Birds Eye View (BEV) Film Festival in London, and that I was one of the selected two. Juliette McCawley and I will be attending the festival which takes place from April 8–13. I believe that the British Council also selected two women delegates from each of the other participating countries around the world, to attend this festival, funded by the British Council. BEV is focused on encouraging women filmmakers from around the world, since most international filmmakers are men.”
Newallo earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance from Florida Atlantic University. Being one of eight selected to receive the BFA, she graduated at the top of her year, summa cum laude. In her first year of college, she received an Irene Ryan Nomination for her work in the play Conflict, which was uniquely created by the students in collaboration with their professor. As an actor, she also worked on other various plays, short films, feature films and commercials in the US, including principal roles in the Akon music video: Don’t Matter, Rapids Water Park commercial, and the short film: Adam and Eve Uncensored. Newallo returned to Trinidad and worked on many television, print and voice commercials, and also the music video for Kes The Band, My Girl. After hosting the popular show on Synergy, Tzone, and guest hosting on several different episodes of different TV shows, she moved on to co-host the very successful bmobile Danceoff, which aired on CNMG. This was not before playing a supporting role in Raymond Choo Kong's theatrical production, What Sweet in Goat Mouth Does Sour in de Bam Bam.
Following that production, she was cast as Candice in the MTV/Unicef feature film, Tribes, shot in Trinidad. She also showed her range by working on the short film Minutes to Midnite as the old woman folklore character of Mama Glow. Among numerous guest appearances on local film and TV programmes, casting for other productions and various writing projects, this actor/writer/producer played the role of Jessica and was also the casting director for The Midnite Affair, a short film that premiered in the 2010 T&T film festival. Newallo is also the executive producer and writer of the award-winning short film The Cutlass (feature film in fundraising stage), and co-director of The Cutlass Productions Ltd. The Cutlass won the BpTT Best Film in Development award at the T&T Film Festival 2012, and premiered its short in LA, Ft Lauderdale, London, Boston, Grenada and Trinidad. Recently, she also played supporting roles in Shaun Escayg’s Noka—Keeper of Worlds and Kaz Ove’s Dubois (both films scheduled to air in TTFF 2014). Newallo also starred in the Caribbean feature, Escape from Babylon, which was released in cinemas in August 2013. Currently, this entrepreneur, as she prefers to be described, is writing the feature film trilogy Soucouyant, which is already generating interest.
When and how did you get into film?
When I was a kid, around six or seven, my brother used to own and run a video store. Sometimes there would be multiple films on at a time and I was fascinated by the medium of communication. From as far back as I can remember, my main interest has always been in understanding human behaviour. I was a very energetic child and played many sports so I was naturally drawn to acting, as it is an active way to study human behaviour. Later on in life, I first got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance but was inevitably pulled back to film.
Who were the people who have influenced you most in your career and in life in general; and how did they?
Everything and everyone influences me and yet sometimes I don’t allow anything or anyone to influence me at all. I am fascinated by what makes people tick and I am fascinated by the similarities and differences of how people react to circumstances and things. At the same time, I am very independent and unconventional in my thinking and don’t allow other people’s opinions to ever affect that—I can be very stubborn in my own way of thinking sometimes. But I have to say that I had a best friend that encouraged me a lot when I was too chicken to take my first acting class. When she passed away, my entire perspective on life changed and I was no longer scared to take that step. My parents have also always been very supportive, regardless of who doubted me in the past. I love to prove people wrong through my actions, so I found strength in both those who have supported me and those who have doubted me. Now, I don’t care as much about what other people think of my choices.
Where did you grow up and where are you currently from?
I grew up in Petit Valley and ended up right back here, after living abroad.
At what schools/institutions did you receive your education?
Blackman’s Primary and then St Andrew’s Primary, St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain. I received a BFA (summa cum laude) in acting from Florida Atlantic University (Dean’s List and President’s list in 2004, 2005).
What daily motto/credo do you live by, and in three words or less, what is your recipe for success?
Wu Wei—it means “effortless action” (or at least I try to live this way). Recipe for success—always be thankful.
What are your most prized possessions: one tangible, one intangible?
My cooking and my acute intuition.
If you had to present to an audience who had never heard of or seen you before, which of your works would you show?
Well, this all depends on whether I’m presenting as an actor, writer or producer. If it were as a producer, I’d present The Cutlass teaser. As a writer, probably the dark folklore fantasy that I’m currently rewriting, Soucouyant, as it’s all based on my imagination. As an actor, even though I haven’t seen it yet, I already know that there is some work I’ll be proud of in Noka—Keeper of Worlds, so I’d probably show that.
What goals and or ambitions do you still have?
My lifelong goal is to continuously learn and grow into the best version of myself that I can, which would also automatically make me grow into the best actor and screenwriter that I can be. But I can definitely say that an Oscar would be nice! I’m also very excited about our team producing the feature film The Cutlass because I think that this film will resonate well with both local and foreign audiences.
What is an interesting facet of your personality that most people do not know about you?
And buss my files? (laughs). I would say that I am an extremely contradictory person. I live in extremes and that is how I keep balanced.
What is the best professional compliment you have ever received?
I recently met with a Hollywood executive producer who was so impressed by our business plan and the quality of our material for The Cutlass that he is interested in representing our project. He said: "Teneille, I was not expecting this from you when you walked in. This is how the pros do it." He has over 20 indie feature films under his belt and is highly connected in the international film industry. Other than this, last year a highly successful entrepreneur told me in a meeting that I reminded him of himself when he was younger. I sure hope he’s right!
How can we find out more about you and keep up to date with your latest projects?
www.thecutlassmovie.com or www.facebook.com/thecutlassmovie I will eventually have my own Web site. For now, I communicate on my Facebook page.
Describe yourself in two words: one beginning with T, the other with N, your initials.
Thoughtful and non-discriminatory.
Tell us about your inspiration to do the type of work you do.
My inspiration comes from everything and everyone because I can learn something from everything and everyone. There are some amazingly talented people that I have been blessed to work with in my life and they inspire me tremendously. My inspiration also comes from myself—this passion is something that I can’t get rid of. I have things to say and my internal self will not be happy unless I say those things. The most fun medium for me to “speak” is through writing or acting, and film in general, because it can reach a large audience.
What advice would you give to anyone contemplating a vocation such as yours?
If you can see yourself doing anything else, then do that other thing. This is one of the toughest careers to choose to pursue. If you love it, then you will be unstoppable and you will succeed.
Who was your hero or idol growing up (fictional or real or both) and why? And who do you admire most today? Your favourite actor/actress?
Alanis Morissette, because when I was younger I couldn’t imagine how someone would be so brave to put their entire soul out there for everyone to hear. Today I admire anyone who is brave enough to vulnerably and humbly explore his or her craft. And just to name a few (actors): Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Leonardo Di Caprio and recently, Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey are some of my favourites—they do fantastic work.
Which of your work(s) do you rate as the most satisfying and memorable?
In university I played Die Alta, in A Bright Room Called Day by Tony Kushner. It allowed me to explore the character’s peculiar movements and strange speaking range and manner of speech. She was the furthest character from myself that I ever played, so it was fun trying to find the ways in which we connected. It was also great to work with all the graduate students when I was in undergrad—I learned a lot from being on stage and rehearsing with them. I also had enormous fun doing West Side Story and Oklahoma! with the live orchestras. My university years were some of the most fun.
What advice would you give to the young people of T&T?
In whatever you want to do in life, believe in yourself and trust your gut. Be humble and open to learn. While no one is perfect, optimism and positive thinking will take you far in life and hey, you’ll be happy on your journey, so why not? Try to have respect for everything and everyone. Know that the only difference between a master and a beginner is that “the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried”—Stephen McCranie. You can do anything you want to in this short life, so why not choose what makes you the happiest? “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right”—Henry Ford.
The one place you would like to visit and why?
Anywhere simple and slow paced with the ocean—I love the ocean. Oh! And the Galapagos, so I can see all the animals in their natural habitat.
What are some of the challenges you face and how do you deal with them?
You know, I try to see everything as a learning experience and continuously move forward—I enjoy a challenge. Currently, the most difficult obstacle for all local filmmakers to overcome is fundraising for film, in Trinidad. While foreign investors will take interest in a good film regardless of where it is from, most local investors have not yet seen the benefit in investing in a local film, for a profitable return. There are some fantastic filmmakers currently working on some amazing films and soon we will see a boom of profitable, local films. I predict that after this happens, investors will have a completely different opinion about investing in local filmmakers’ businesses—filmmaking is a business.
What would you consider your dream or ideal achievement?
If we’re speaking career, I would love to just be able to make a comfortable living doing what I love… and again, an Oscar would be nice…(laughs)