John Tomkins isn’t relaxing. When we catch up with him, the seats are barely cooled from the 5th English Riviera Film Festival and he’s already planning the sixth.
The director of the ERFF and filmmaker himself has steered the festival from a Bay hotel to its new home in the £ multi-million media centre at South Devon College.
“The feedback has been fantastic,” says John. That includes comments from the competition’s finalist filmmakers, the nominees. “And some of the feedback from the filmmakers who didn’t attend has been superb. Audience members’ feedback was great – they loved the new venue.”
The festival shows off talent of the south west alongside international gems.
The key to the success of this festival is listening to the audience, according to John.
Learning and growing
“We learn every year and that’s how we’ve grown from a small screen in a hotel, which was great for our first year, to what we have now.”
Part of that growth has to be down to John’s fearless energy combined with the support of local filmmakers. “They’ve been very supportive and brilliant,” he says.
But the driver of the festival has to be the dynamo that is John Tomkins himself. He has an energy that seems to derive purely from a desire to promote films and the South West, particularly Torbay.
“I’m a risk taker,” he says. “The third year wasn’t going to happen. I funded it initially and then got sponsorship on board.”
Variety, diversity and quality
The variety, diversity and quality of the films on offer have also added to the English Riviera Film Festival‘s appeal. There’s a range of subject matter, emotional content and style that isn’t often associated with that section of the south coast.
“The films have got better,” says John, “more diverse with locations all over the world. One thing I loved about this year is that a lot of the nominees turned up from across the country and Europe. I think that shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
Plans for the future, judging by John’s reading of the audience, is to have the main festival events over an evening and a day. And to show more feature films on the Friday and Saturday nights.
That move to longer films from the ERFF’s traditional focus on shorts could be because of the success of Troll Bridge. The audacious animation of Terry Pratchett’s story was a major draw – and a major achievement in itself.
“What was nice about that was, even though it was an Australian director, there was a special effects artist based in Devon who worked on it. It’s an amazing, collaborative, international story,” says John Tomkins.
The event also managed to bag the front page in the Western Morning News’ entertainment section for Simon Tytherleigh. The journalist sampled the sets of Simon’s Legend of Jan Tregeagle at one of the festival’s stalls and was beguiled.
It’s that bringing people together, promoting the filmmaking community, championing the area and enjoying great films that are all combined in John’s vision. And it adds to the cultural offering of Torbay.
“Every time people come here, they’re getting a taste of Torbay and Devon, and they may come back and shoot something here and use local people,” says John.
With an eye to the future, included in prize-giving, there’s a South Devon College filmmaker of the year award, this year presented by the principal of the college. And the Torbay Culture head honcho was also in attendance. The prizes are made by Our Glass of Cockington.
“It’s the third year they’ve made the awards, and the filmmakers love them. I’ve sent them to Japan, Canada, the US, and the Netherlands. It’s like a piece of Torbay is going to that country!”
What tips would John have for would-be film festival promoters?
“Be prepared for pain barriers,” he says with a dry laugh. “Delegation is key to getting through that. This is the first year I didn’t do the projector. That was taken on by Alex Small from the college.” Giving John more time to have an overview and enjoy the festival.
A number of volunteers also helped out on the day. And there was “brilliant support from the college”, he says. And “This year we had 10 judges, which worked phenomenally well,”
Another tip is to grow it slowly, and to have satellite events taking place around the main one. That collaboration involved Torquay Museum, Artizan gallery, and The Blue Walnut. The film stands were also a draw. They gave people a chance to see and meet filmmakers behind the films.
As well as including features, John would like to introduce a documentary strand for the English Riviera Film Festival 2020. And you get the feeling that whatever John Tomkins puts his mind to will happen.
The main day for the English Riviera Film Festival 2020 is on Saturday October 24 at South Devon College Hi Tech and Digital Skills Centre and they will be open for entries on January 1, 2020.
top image: Some of the Nominees and Winner for Best Film headed up by: John Tomkins – from left to right: David Yorke Director ” Safekeeping”; Christopher Williams Producer “All that Remains”; Benjamin Akira Tallamy Director “All that Remains”; Simeon Costello Producer “Cut From Cloth”; Jamie Hughes Director “Horarium”; Tobias Worrall Director “Chumbak”; Isabelle Van Hoorn Director “Chumbak”; and Gareth Davies Cast and Crew Member “Bus Stop”.