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Don’t Be a Victim: How to Avoid Getting Duped By a Disreputable Film Festival

Don't Be a Victim: How to Avoid Getting Duped By a Disreputable Film Festival

As any filmmaker can tell you, rejection from a film festival stings. But it shouldn’t be because the festival is operating as a sham. The overwhelming majority of film festivals are legitimate forums for independent films that are run by professional directors and programmers that adhere to the highest ethical standards — and definitely are not profit-driven. 

Unfortunately, there are a few disreputable “so-called” festivals that prey on innocent and/or naïve filmmakers. As Jason Guerrasio observes in An IW Investigation: The Dark Underbelly of the Film Festival Circuit” (Jan. 16 & 17), some festivals engage in disreputable business practices such as accepting submissions from filmmakers but never screening any movies, or demanding and even receiving money from filmmakers for “awards.”

READ MORE: Ted Hope Says To Best Serve Audiences, Film Festivals Need A Reboot

Ultimately, the problem of disreputable festivals needs to be addressed on many levels, by different stakeholders, but it is not going away anytime soon. In the interim, therefore, it pays for the independent filmmaker to be especially vigilant. In short, filmmakers should perform due diligence before submitting their films directly or indirectly (i.e., through a film festival submission service such as Withoutabox) to unknown or lesser-known festivals.

I would suggest the following:

1.     Be a detective! Seek out other filmmakers, credible consultants and industry insiders and ask them about the reputations of these festivals.

2.     Google, Google and Google! Always keep an eye out for red flags. Read online reviews of the festivals, and use the Internet to determine what films, if any, have been screened in the past at the festivals, who (if anybody) attended the festivals and where they were held (or not held) in the past.

3.     Pick up the cell phone! Call the festival before submitting your film. There should be a person on the other end of the line or someone who returns your call who can candidly answer your questions about submissions, acceptance, rejection, consideration for awards, etc. If you can’t reach anyone or he/she provides evasive answers, think twice before submitting your film. Naturally, be polite, and don’t call immediately before or during the festival.

4.     Don’t be a victim! Speak out if you have already been victimized by a particular festival’s disreputable conduct. There are indie-related Internet message boards (Withoutabox) and media outlets, the Better Business Bureau and consumer watchdog agencies where you can describe the disreputable conduct and/or register your complaints. In a few cases (e.g., the festival organizer absconds with the filmmakers’ money without screening any movies), such conduct may even constitute civil or criminally actionable fraud that warrants investigation by a District Attorney or Attorney General’s office. You owe it to yourself and your peers to take action that will discourage (if not stop) the disreputable conduct of those few festivals giving our industry a bad name.  

Laurie Kirby is the Executive Director of the International Film Festival Summit (IFFS). The mission of the IFFS is to promote best practices in the film festival industry. It meets annually in Austin with representatives of hundreds of festivals to share information, examine trends & network. It also holds free webinars year round that address current festival issues.

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martha may

This is the UFFO remit, the Universal Film and festival organization is a non profit with 185 member festivals and is the only organization tackling fraudulent film festivals. The UFFO magazine Universal Film Magazine is clear evidence of this as they expose.

Although this is interesting story from Laurie Kirby, however she stated in public on LinkedIn when UFFO first formed that in her 20 years working film festivals she never saw any activity that would warrant such a code of practice for film festivals. Her remarks openly undermined what UFFO was trying to achieve. Nice to see she now has taken on board the UFFO remit.

Jason Rosette

One note regarding: "Don’t be a victim! Speak out…"

Do this at risk of being branded as 'difficult' in the small indie filmmaking village. The persons in question can also spin things against you so that you appear to be the bad guy/culpable party.

This happened to me with a corrupt film event in the US some years ago: I spoke out and got burned bigtime. Turns out (much later) other filmmakers had also been ripped of by the same persons, and I was the only one to stick my neck out and ''speak out'.

Great, so I was vindicated and we all got our eventual remedy as a result eventually, but I was the one that took the heat and lost a lot of exposure as a result of being branded the 'difficult bad guy' by the bent characters behind the maligned effort.

I won't actually name names here because – contrary to article – I know this may be a less than constructive approach. These people, the ones willing to rip off filmmakers, are already suspect characters and can be very vindictive; they may also act in very destructive and peculiar ways once the light is shined on them.

Thus, they can find creative ways to torpedo the rest of your effort, as whistleblower. Instead of gaining a reputation as someone who dispelled corruption and defended the rights and livelihoods of your peers, you may find that you become the difficult troublemaker who 'started all the problems in the first place'.

My two cents, based on actual experience…have fun ;) !


Unless it is one of the big fests, I just avoid any festival that expects cash up front to consider a screener.
I have heard the argument from festivals that if I can't afford the submission fee than I shouldn't be filmmaking. But if you can't afford to run your festival without submission fees, maybe you shouldn't be running a festival. :P

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