Alex Interviews: John Tomkins
Founder of the English Riviera Film Festival
Alex: Hi John, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
John: So my name’s John Tomkins, I’m the director of the English Riviera Film Festival; I’m also a film producer and have been doing that full-time, self-employed, for the last six years.
Alex: In terms of creating the Film Festival, how did that come about?
John: The festival came about because I was really keen to promote filmmakers from the local area and celebrate the films that they’ve been making.
The first Film Festival was at the Torbay Hotel – it was on their bingo screen actually – and with local support, and then the international support brought in 2017, we moved it to the English Riviera Centre.
We held the awards there, and that brought in the international filmmakers. From there, we’ve grown into a week-long festival, with films entered from across the world.
Alex: Was there any key part of taking the festival from just an idea, into what it is today - attracting submissions from all over the world?
John: I think the key part of it is local business and community support, because if you don’t have that, it’s not going to be a successful festival.
For example, the awards are made locally at a place called OurGlass in Cockington, and we send those across the world; so there’s a bit of Torbay, English Riviera, going all over the world! And they’ve been sent to places like Japan, the USA, Canada, and France, and yeah, that’s how we’ve grown.
Alex: What are the main marketing methods that you’ve used to promote the Film Festival and to grow it as much as you can?
John: The biggest thing is I learn from the audience, so if the audience makes a comment about something that can be improved, the next year we take that on board, and that’s how we evolve.
Giving an example, we’ve got our social media channels, but two years ago one of the attendees says, “I’m not on Facebook, I’m not on social media”, and this was a gentleman from Torquay Museum, so this year we did a newsletter for people who are not on social media.
Alex: What support have you received from local businesses?
John: Local businesses have been the key to how the festival has grown, so we had quite a few sponsors in the beginning – and it’s not just money, it’s their time and expertise, but this year through the college –
Alex: Is this South Devon College?
John: Yes, through South Devon College we’ve had CVP – a supplier of camera equipment to the film industry – as a sponsor, and having that connection is amazing.
Alex: In what ways did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the film festival?
John: We had to go online-only last year, and I was adamant that we weren’t going to cancel the festival, because everybody in the creative industry needs hope. There’s full-time people with full-time careers involved, they’ve got families and things like that – it’s a showcase of their work for a wider audience.
Alex: What is your end goal for the Film Festival and what point do you want to take it to?
John: I jokingly said at South Devon College a number of years ago that it’s Cannes in Torbay. Cannes has the French Riviera, and we have the English Riviera!
But now we want to reach the point where we can show more feature films, and we can bring production companies from across to world to Torbay so they can see what an amazing location we have.
We also support filmmakers of the future, so we do the South Devon College Filmmaker of the Year Award. That recognises a filmmaker, and when someone gets that award, obviously, you can kickstart their career.
Alex: If you were to submit a film to your own festival, what kind of film would it be?
John: A happy film.
Alex: Well, after the last couple of years I don’t blame you! Next, how can people get in touch with you?
Alex: Just one last thing, is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered previously?
John: This year’s festival is the first year that we’ve shown over sixty films. This gives a wider view of different genres – for example, we’ve had two days dedicated to animations, and that’s been key to the festival.
Alex: Brilliant. Thanks for speaking with me, John.
Alex Interviews: Lewis Carter
Director of Lifeline and Best Foot Forward
Alex: Hi Lewis, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
Lewis: My name’s Lewis Carter, and I’m here at the English Riviera Film Festival to present two films we made in lockdown, Lifeline and Best Foot Forward, and it’s the first festival that we’ve been able to bring the films to in person.
Alex: How did your journey of being a filmmaker get to this point?
Lewis: With ups and downs, as every filmmaker will tell you! It’s not something you should do unless you really, really want to do it, but events like this are what really makes it for me.
I’m a great believer in the cinematic experience, so to find events like this is a goldmine.
Alex: How many events like this do you tend to go to?
Lewis: It depends on how many accept our film. In the past, we’ve been pretty lucky that our films have been accepted all over the world, but the ones we tend to like the most are the ones like this – where you come to a nice local community and all local businesses are involved.
Alex: And just to bring you in on this, John; when you get submissions through, what is it you’re looking for from films in order to accept them for the film festival?
John: The most important thing for a film, I think for most filmmakers, is the story. The script is key.
But one thing about this year’s festival is… it’s amazing – the quality of the work, you would think with lockdown, you wouldn’t have that quality, but it’s interesting, it’s been amazing.
Alex: My next question for you, Lewis, would be: how were you as a filmmaker affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns?
Lewis: I’d just come off one of my larger projects and wanted to go bigger – you always want to go bigger – and then, obviously, lockdown happened.
We couldn’t go bigger, but the idea of stopping altogether was never on the table, so we made two lockdown projects – both of which we’re screening in the festival here, and they’re films we wouldn’t have made if lockdown didn’t occur. They’re films we’re very proud of, not because they’re particularly polished or anything, but because of the story we had to tell.
Alex: What is your next step as a filmmaker, and what would the end goal be. Hollywood?
Lewis: Ha! I dunno, I haven’t done the English Riviera yet!
No, I would just like to be able to tell stories full-time. I’m kind of lucky in the job I do, that I get to write and produce scripted content for brands and adverts, but to be able to do more narrative stuff full-time would be great, and to just keep writing and getting stuff screened to different audiences.
Alex: Is there anything else that you’d like to say to our audience?
Lewis: I think just – if they’re wondering why businesses should support things like this, especially after lockdown, it’s because you can see the benefit to the community.
For example, I never would have come here if it wasn’t for this festival, but I’ve come here, and I’ll probably end up coming back here in the future on my holiday, you know. I’m loving it. So it’s all good, all a positive thing.