Romford Film Festival

The UK’s first live, post-lockdown film festival

Lawrence Bennie
3 min readOct 4, 2020
Romford Festival (RFF) is held at the Premiere Cinema in Romford, East London

After 7 days of almost 200 film screenings, the UK’s first live film festival since lockdown has wrapped for another year. The 4th Romford Film Festival (RFF) has admirably battled through pandemic disruption, reduced attendance and some last-minute hiccups to leave audiences and filmmakers delighted once again.

“We can honestly say we were the first festival to come back after all the restrictions were put in place”, affirms festival director Spencer Hawken. “We have had about 1/3 of the audience this year but the festival is growing. The films are getting bigger but we’re not forgetting the smaller films”.

From £30 documentary short London Through The Lens to $28 million Hollywood chiller Blind, the range of film on offer at RFF is certainly a large part of its appeal and success. “There’s a fantastic variety” says committee member Bradley Barton. “Its inclusive and people always say how friendly it is”. Indeed, despite the small crowds, the atmosphere at the festival has been far from sullen. “All the filmmakers and actors have been so gracious and humble. They were so grateful just to be here and have their film shown”.

There’s been some bumps along the way. Legendary beat poet Ruth Weiss was scheduled to attend the premiere of a documentary about her life and career but sadly passed away on 31st July.

Experimental film It’s Always Been You had its final edit on Friday 14th, a few days before the screening. Elsewhere, violent thriller Killer Tattooist had shaken audience members walking out of the screening, with one unnerved attendee having to be escorted by their car by a member of staff.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that RFF has a special relationship with audiences; on the final day, 40 showed up for a repeated short film showcase and 25 for the second screening of horror-comedy Puppet Killer. “We have some die- hard followers”, says Spencer. “Someone came from Rome for Ruth Weiss, The Beat Goddess. Some festivals forget about the audience. We aim to get the balance right between filmmaker and audience”. From a welcoming chat with the team of affable volunteers to post-screening red carpet interviews, the audience are consistently made part of the RFF experience. “We also have filmmakers from previous festivals who are back this year to watch. They also became our audience”. Spencer and Bradley also take immense pride in the sincerity RRF shows to its filmmakers. “There’s a lot of dodgy festivals out there but we are legit and your film will be shown on the big screen”.

For those already eager for RRF’s return, Spencer and Bradley have an extra treat on the cards, building on Spencer’s association with FrightFest. Plans are in place for a Romford Horror Festival next February, with the pair anticipating it to be even more successful. And, for budding festival mangers, Spencer took the time to offer some advice for those thinking of starting their own film festival. “It requires hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, and that’s just to get to the films! You also need money. The biggest issue is managing both the expectations of the filmmaker and the audience. The filmmaker needs to be shown that they’re valued but, at the same time, they can’t be treated any different from the audience, who have to be kept entertained”.

Infectiously friendly and refreshingly optimistic, RFF has set a standard for the post-lockdown festival circuit. With its diverse programming, delivered by an amiable, dedicated and passionate team, the festival is an engaging fixture for filmmakers and audiences alike with a more than positive future ahead.

Home of Romford Film Festival



Lawrence Bennie

Teacher & Theatre tour guide. Interested in Arts & Culture, Film, History, Psychology, and the odd mystery!