The Film Festival Doctor (Yes, she’s a real doctor!) Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith, continues to explore in further detail how the world of film festivals are adapting around the CV-19 pandemic now that they are slowly beginning to start back up again around the world. What is also happening is that more film festivals are being created! She was privileged to interview the unstoppable Spencer Hawken; the Director of another one of her favourite film festivals, the U.K.’s Romford Film Festival. Below, Spencer explains how he is growing the festival brand and branching out into horror.
Spencer Hi, welcome to The Film Festival Doctor’s blog 🙂 could you kindly tell my reader a little bit about yourself and your background?
This is far too long a story, the relevant part however is that since staring through the bannisters and watching Jodie Foster (then aged 13) despatch pesky locals in the film The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane, I have loved horror. I always have had a massive library of horror films, first on Beta then VHS then DVD (and randomly Super 8) and now on Blu-ray. In the 80s I owned video libraries that had a special extreme horror section hidden out the back, that had about 65 of the then banned video nasties which I’d loan out for a reasonable sum and a pint of blood. And in the noughties I became a film reviewer for lots of sites most of which have now shut shop and disappeared (maybe because they hired me as an author) however you’ll still find the odd article of mine in the New Yorker, New York Times and other publications. By 2012 I was reviewing about 3 horror movies a day, but noticed a recurring trend, people blaming the failings of their films based on their limited £50k budget. So I set out to make a horror film for nothing and won LOTS of awards in doing so. This led me onto making a festival, The Romford Film Festival which is now prepping for its 5th year, I also judge on 11 other worldwide festivals and in 2022 will be traveling to Eastern Europe to set up another horror film festival on behalf of another organisation that needs a template to work too.
You have recently just wrapped the Romford Film Festival (and if you read my blog the other day dear reader you will see that I gave it 5 stars!) which was a huge success and one of the first festivals to take place post-lockdown. How did you personally feel the festival went?
Like anyone who runs a film festival, the flaws are gleaming, but this year Covid-19 threw us an additional curveball, so in addition to dealing with the logistical nightmare of social distancing, we also had to factor in low audience levels. Our biggest screen could accommodate a maximum of 88 (normally 300+). We’ve never been the biggest festival, but in the words of field of dreams “If you build it they will come” each year we see this baseline growing and growing, we have die hard attendees who literally watch EVERYTHING, bear in mind we showed 197 features and shorts over 7 days. We had to curb our numbers this year which often went a bit wrong because we have to factor in full festival passes, day and individual screenings. As a plus point this year people travelled from Rome, Yorkshire and Ramsgate for the festival with zero connections to any film. They came because we ran on despite Covid-19. People wanted new films in the cinema.
What were your highlights and favourite moments of this year’s Romford Film Festival?
Quality, quality, quality and lovely, lovely people. In addition, having a team this year, a proper team meant that I was able to engage more with EVERYONE and by token so were the team as a whole. In past years I miss 80% of the event because I was sorting stuff or hosting interviews and in doing this, I missed what was actually happening. This was my most relaxed and most enjoyable festival. And we’ve created a team that are all back for both festivals in 2021. One more thing of course was the exclusives that traded the big festivals going online for a small festival with an actual cinema and real cinemagoers, we pulled some monumental coup’s this year.
Why did you want to create the Romford Horror Festival?
As I mentioned earlier horror is my passion, but when building a general film festival, you have to put passions aside, each year we have to sacrifice films because we don’t want the main festival to become too horror dominated. This opens all sorts of doors for genre festivals, horror works best within the confines of indie-filmmaking because they lack the generic trappings of studio films, where the view is “if it worked once, flog it to death” indie films go a different way, the most successful horror films of the last two decades all started out as indie projects and that’s really exciting. One other thing is that people still associate me with horror, so for those that know me and make horror send their films, finally I know horror so I know places to target to add to the mix.
What are your plans for the Romford Horror Festival?
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something DEAD! A combination of new additions, indie favorites of the last 5 years and die-hard classics and lots of time to talk horror. Two Long days of horror towards the end of February.
We announced the horror festival just a few days ago and submissions are already flooding in. While special guests may not be for 21, moving out of Covid-19 it’s a definite plan to invite home grown talents and horror legends.
What types of horror films are you looking for to programme?
All, you never know where the next idea is going to come from, one we really like at the moment is a tense horror tale set in broad daylight but still giving the allure of a nighttime hack and slash. At the main festival this year we had UK premieres of Blind and Puppet Killer I think people need a new masked killer to fall for, and who doesn’t want killer puppets? All kinds of everything truly work and give the festival a real mixed bag feel. The whole team are truly excited to deliver our first genre festival, whatever it brings.
Is horror your favourite film genre? 🙂
I think I’ve answered this, of course it is, but I cant lie as I move towards my half century (all too fast for my liking) and have become more in touch with my feelings I love to watch a film that really makes me feel something, if a film can make my eyes water it’s a winner regardless of genre.
Thank you so much Spencer for sharing such valuable insight with my reader and we can’t wait to attend the Romford Horror Film Festival.
Submissions are now open for the Romford Horror Film Festival – submit your films here: https://filmfreeway.com/RomfordHorrorFestival
Coming Next Week: I’ll be interviewing actress and Maxim cover girl Janel Tanner about the challenges and joys of acting.