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Can You Trust This Film Festival?

Can You Trust This Film Festival?

There are thousands of film festivals in North America. Of those, a majority have significant track records — that is, their films find distribution, the filmmakers raise their profiles, or, at a minimum, the festival has a solid reputation that enhances the filmmakers’ stature by proxy. 

But a slim margin exist because most filmmakers don’t make the cut. Inexperienced with the festival circuit, they scramble to find somewhere, anywhere, to screen. The looser acceptance protocols can give filmmakers a false sense of success that allows them to display multiple laurels on their websites and posters — which are largely meaningless to anyone but the filmmakers. 

Still — a screen is a screen, right? 


“It was a fucking nightmare.” That’s how Mira Gibson described the premiere of her film “Warfield” at the Manhattan Film Festival last year. Certain it wouldn’t be accepted at the New York Film Festival or Tribeca, the Brooklynite wanted to screen in the city and thought MFF would be a good fit. (Editor’s note: Manhattan Film Festival should not be confused with the Manhattan Short Film Festival, a completely separate organization.) 

She submitted her film and entry fee through online service Withoutabox; when the film was accepted, Gibson hustled to put the final touches in post. About 10 weeks before the 2012 MFF, she sent “Warfield” in the form of a thumb drive, along with specs.

When her big night arrived, Gibson was anxious—and not because she was about to unveil a film that she’d been hyping for months to her agent, manager, family, friends, cast and crew. The venue wasn’t readymade for a movie premiere: That year, the festival was screening films at The Producer’s Club, a Times Square space more suited for theater work.

It proved to be an omen of things to come.

As the lights went down and the picture came up, Gibson was horrified. “It’s the wrong one!” she yelled out. Her first audience was watching the version she’d submitted for acceptance—a work-in-progress with no color or audio correction, no credits or the score.

After her pleas with the projectionist failed to stop the film, Gibson learned only then that her thumb drive version, which represented thousands of dollars in final edits, was unplayable by MFF: The thumb drive was Mac-formatted and their equipment was Windows. Gibson was speechless.

While her experience would be a nightmare for any filmmaker, not every accusation of a festival’s illegitimacy is cut and dry. The Manhattan Film Festival, which wrapped its 7th edition in June, is such a case. 

READ MORE: Indiewire Investigation: The Dark Underbelly of the Film Festival Circuit, Part 1

Filmmakers Philip J. Nelson and Jose Ruiz founded the event in 2006 after struggling to find an audience for their film, “Promise of a New Day.” MovieMaker magazine selected MFF in 2012 as one of the “25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee,” largely due to its revenue sharing agreement: The festival and filmmakers split ticket sales 50/50, with the site Screen Booker taking 99-cent service fee on every ticket sold. (Filmmakers interviewed for this story say they received amounts ranging from $300-$400.)

On the surface, the festival sounds like a hidden gem among the thousands. However, after seven years, its profile remains very low (although for its first four years, its name was Independent Features Film Festival). And all the filmmakers interviewed for this story — whether they enjoyed the festival or not—commented on its rampant disorganization, lack of communication and screening ineptitude.


L.A.-based filmmaker Timothy L. Anderson screened his debut feature, the Coolio-starring dark comedy “Two Hundred Thousand Dirty,” at the 2013 MFF. Only available to fly to town on the day of his screening, Anderson was having lunch with a friend in midtown and prepared to do a final social media blast about the premiere when he got a call from his AD that the location on their Screen Booker page suddenly changed from the East Village’s Quad Cinema to Hunter College on the Upper East Side.”I was never emailed or called at all,” said Anderson about the change. 

Panic ensued: Unable to get in touch with his festival contact over the phone, Anderson rushed to the Quad for answers and found only volunteers and staff who had none. Anderson then spent two hours waiting in the lobby until Nelson showed up, who only explained that there were booking problems.

“We did postcards saying it was at the Quad and they were right next to him as we were talking,” said Anderson. “So no one at the festival saw these and saw they were wrong? My lead actor was at the opening night party, no one said anything to him about it. I told [Nelson], ‘If you walk to the Quad and find out the film is now uptown, you’re just going to go to a bar.’” With only three hours before his screening, Anderson suggested a shuttle service.

In a panic, Nelson found a limo company to take the people who showed up at the Quad over to Hunter College, where things weren’t much better: the film began only after the projectionist scrambled to find a working Blu-ray player. There was no festival representative there to introduce the film or moderate a Q&A afterwards.

Jon Lindstrom, also L.A.-based (you may remember him as Dr. Kevin Collins on “General Hospital”), had a similar experience when screening his debut feature, summer-getaway-gone-wrong thriller “How We Got Away With It.” However, he only learned about his location change when he ran into Nelson at the Quad, where he was told his film would now play at Hunter.

“I was checking my Screen Booker page every day,” said Lindstrom. “They must have changed it that day.” Like Anderson, the festival shuttled audience members up to Hunter. Lindstrom’s film also started late and had technical issues.

“There were such repeated instances of clusterfuck,” Lindstrom said. “There should have been backup plans, contingencies. They should have learned over so many years. I’m still rather stunned.”

Location changes for screenings are a frequent occurrence at festivals (though usually filmmakers are notified directly before it has happened). Most filmmakers that Indiewire interviewed who attended MFF either last year or this year just made the most out of a lousy situation.

Solvan Naim took a slightly different tack: After spending an estimated $3,500 on promotions for the MFF screening of his debut darmedy/hip-hop musical, “Full Circle,” at the Quad, the Brooklyn native learned from ticket buyers that the location was now Hunter College. Naim wasn’t satisfied with Nelson’s shuttle suggestion; when conversations stalled with Nelson and unable to get assistance from Quad owner Elliott Kanbar, Naim contacted his lawyer, Habib Bentaleb. According to Bentaleb, the festival refused to reply to his numerous emails. And then Naim received an email from Nelson stating that they were pulling his film — a move that may violate Withoutabox’s Festival Participation Agreement. (Nelson said he was unaware of the clause. In a statement provided to Indiewire, Withoutabox said, “If we determine that a festival has violated our Terms of Service, we will take action, which may include terminating a festival’s access to Withoutabox services.” The company declined to comment specifically about MFF.)

Naim responded by gathering friends, actors and film crew to protest at the Quad. Naim met other filmmakers with similar MFF woes; the police even showed up and tried to get Naim and Nelson to reconcile.

Two days later, Naim rented a New York University theater and showed his film.

Next: The festival’s founder responds.


When asked about this year’s festival, Nelson admitted, “There needs to be better communication,” and has hired a communications director to be the main liaison between the festival and filmmakers. With regards to the venue changes, however, he held his ground. 

“We gave the Quad our schedule well in advance and it never changed,” he said. He added there was never any double booking.

However, Indiewire obtained emails that filmmakers received stating their films were playing at the Quad before venue changes took place.

“We bent over backward for the filmmakers,” said Nelson. “One person who was confused, we gave limo service to shuttle from the Quad to Hunter. It cost $1,000. We do as much as we can.”

READ MORE: The Dark Underbelly of the Film Festival Circuit, Part 2

In regards to Naim, Nelson said, “It got very aggressive. It was forceful and we were aggressively being bullied.” Nelson said, Naim confronted his staff as well as his children at the protest before being removed by police. (Naim denied this.)

As for next year, MFF is scheduled at the Quad again and expanding from 10 days to 14. Nelson also plans to give the grand prize winner a one-week commercial run. (He would not say where this would take place.)

Nelson freely admits he can’t sift through all of the messages that come to him once the festival starts, including those from filmmakers. However, some filmmakers noted that when they finally tracked down Nelson, his apologies included a lot of excuses and sometimes malice: Gibson received another screening after her disastrous premiere, but no Q&A. “I felt in a lot of ways it didn’t happen because I made it known to everyone that I had a problem with how my first screening went,” she said. 


Putting MFF aside for a moment: Does a festival like this serve a real purpose beyond offering the hope of stoking filmmaker egos? 

“There’s an entire segment of the industry that’s built on the hopes and dreams of filmmakers who always wanted to make a movie and they want to get well known,” said Brian Newman, founder of filmmaker consultancy Sub-Genre Media. “You have to be really savvy about your career and ask, ‘Is this going to help my film?'”

Newman’s advice: Don’t apply to an unknown festival without getting a recommendation from a filmmaker who’s played there before. He also suggests seeking out recent and reputable press coverage (and not just a recap of the award winners).

This year’s MFF filmmakers said they’ve learned their lessons. Naim plans to ensure his festivals feature major sponsors. (MFF has none.) And Anderson said his experience taught him that next time he wants to screen in New York — or anywhere — he may as well just book his own screening.

Gibson, however, still feels bruised.

“I’m not going to get into Cannes,” she said. “I just want to sit with my family and see something that I put my two years of hard work into.”

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Sue Lange

I love this: "poop face." Not poopie face?

D roosendahl

the BIGSND Film Festival, beware this fake film festival the Big Snd film festival as it’s called is a fraud, claiming it will donate all profits "after Expenses" like paying itself.


the snd film festival is a scam sndla is a rip off


SND Film Festival aka Big SND Film Festival on yelp this film festival is a scam the society of notre dame is a scam film festival that never had a first year anywhere, and the national veterans foundation ordered them to cease and desist using nvf name as a sponsor too, also snd was banned from film freeway and withoutabox too


the sndla or big snd film festival is a scam


Word on the street is that festival programmers know that LA SHORTS FEST is a not a true film festival but is an entry-fee collecting business. I was going to submit my short to this festival but did some research to discover that this festival isn’t what it appears to be. Its claim of high rank and prestige is not from any credible source. It does not attract the number of attendance claimed in its description. Their website is celebrity-driven to appear prestigious along with claims that entry into this festival would likely get you an Oscar nomination or win at BAFTA. There is also no list of past winners to support those claims. I contacted a festival consultant and industry insider who’s at the top of the game, and it was confirmed to me that it’s a scam. You may verify their legitimacy by submitting at your own peril, but it is not for me.


My experience at MMF was great. We had a good turn out at the quad, the film screened fine and we got a good amount of time for a talk back. The organizers were very generous, there was even a nice party little party at club 40/40 for all the filmmakers which was a gray chance to network and meet new collaborators. The girl in this article sounds like she was in out of her depth, she should have checked to see that they had received her thumb drive (it has a large group of films they’re screening) she shouldn’t just expect that they’d follow through without double checking, following up, re-following up and confirming the screening equipment works through a test before showtime, all of which is true at any festival or screening event. It’s just the job of a good producer and this girl seems a little green and looking for someone to blame. Congrats and I wish you the best of luck.

Greg Ashmore

This smells a lot like Geoffrey Gilmore's work and tactics. He launched a similar campaign some years back when he was over at Sundance, against the founders of "Slamdance" (aka Sundance rejects). Now that he's at Tribeca, it's likely he's targeted potentially threatening festivals for obliteration. Not surprised. Several filmmakers who know him and his track record recognize these similarities.


Wow, Guerrasio is one overzealous and intransigent prosecutor. He must be Italian. :) Of course, with this comes a prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation, unwillingness to admit mistake, reliance on unreliable testimony and evidence, character assassination, inconsistent and unfounded accusatory theory. He should go to work for the Italian Justice System. What a joke you both are.


Wow, Guerrasio is one overzealous and intransigent prosecutor. He must be Italian. :) Of course, with this comes a prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation, unwillingness to admit mistake, reliance on unreliable testimony and evidence, character assassination, inconsistent and unfounded accusatory theory. He should go to work for the Italian Justice System. What a joke you both are.


Wow, Guerrasio is one overzealous and intransigent prosecutor. He must be Italian. :) Of course, with this comes a prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation, unwillingness to admit mistake, reliance on unreliable testimony and evidence, character assassination, inconsistent and unfounded accusatory theory. He should go to work for the Italian Justice System. What a joke you both are.

Lauren Smith

Since when does a festival or a filmmaker need the approval of the elite to succeed?

"the festival has a solid reputation that enhances the filmmakers' stature by proxy" barf. The author is clearly an enemy of indie film.

Gergi Domingo

Somebody should report them to the FBI. It's wrong to do what they be doing.

Gergi Domingo

Somebody should report them to the FBI. It's wrong to do what they be doing.

Clayton S.

No surprise here. When my producer went to meet with the festival director at the offices last spring, it was at the empire state building but it wasn't their offices. It was one of those companies people pay so they have an office for a day or when they need it, but not all the time. I think they also get their mail through that same company. If MFF has any real offices, it's likely the same guy's apartment.

Justin MacVane

"There are thousands of film festivals in North America. Of those, a majority have significant track records — that is, their films find distribution, the filmmakers raise their profiles, or, at a minimum, the festival has a solid reputation that enhances the filmmakers' stature by proxy.

But a slim margin exist because most filmmakers don’t make the cut. Inexperienced with the festival circuit, they scramble to find somewhere, anywhere, to screen. The looser acceptance protocols can give filmmakers a false sense of success that allows them to display multiple laurels on their websites and posters — which are largely meaningless to anyone but the filmmakers. "

What kind of opening jerk statement is that?


Obviously the organizers are failures. Failed filmmakers, failed film festival coordinators. It has always baffled me that people think loving movies is enough to qualify for working in the film industry. At every level, you have to be TALENTED. Obviously the people behind MFF lack talent, the talent of filmmaking and the talent of programming and organizing film screenings. I have to wonder, what would it take to have them realize this and move on.

Ivan Jeminson

I know someone who had their movie at MFF this year and it seemed fine. Everyone was happy, not sure about the filmmakers in the article but I think their collective attitudes says more about them than the film festival. If I ever finish my movie I will send it to the festival as I suspect Tribeca isn't that into avant garde film. MFF, however, has clearly demonstrated an open mindedness in the way they program. Touche' to the festival director and his crew. Don't lose them and keep your head up. These naysayers won't last in the industry if their whining publicly about scheduling hiccups. :)

Dirk Johnson

If you think this is unusual when it comes to film festivals, you are sadly mistaken. Most film festivals exist primarily for the same reason vanity publishers exist: to get your money. The only difference is that vanity publishers will produce a more or less acceptable, reliable product; film festivals often can't find a working DVD player or any tech crew member who knows how to press a button.


It would seem that this article's comments section is a sounding board for the angry filmmakers whom the festival couldn't please. Unfortunate since a reasonable discussion on the overhaul of the entire festival system needs to be had. Clearly it will not happen here.

MFF Sucks!

How fitting is it that their call for entries are open but not on Withoutabox? Looks like Philip's only way of hooking filmmakers has kicked them out the way they kicked out Full Circle. Also, FC just screened at the AMC theaters and one a trophy best audience. Got that Philip?


I STUNNED that these incompetent people made it to seven years or perhaps they didn't. It says they changed their name and I'm thinking that their inability to do it right is probably why.


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Sam Snowe

I was outraged while reading this article, until I googled "mff scam" to find out more and nothing came up to solidify these complaints (except for Full Circle's ripoff report). I did, however, come across a couple of blogs from supporters of the festival, which were much better written and included references and one included screen shots as a form of proof, which this article lacks. It would seem Mira Gibson's participation in this article is simply for the free press, especially since she is documented as having tweeted "second screening at the Manhattan Film Festival was a huge success and a total dream come true". Um… okay, so why is she complaining here? Tim Anderson has publicly admitted that many of the positive things he had to say were omitted from this article. It would seem the only two filmmakers that refuse to say anything good about the festival have responded so spitefully that you absolutely HAVE to take what they say with a grain of salt.

It's clear they are disorganized, but it is also clear that they mean well and have helped out a lot of filmmakers. They do not deserve this mistreatment. If indiewire editors have any conscience they'll remove this trash.

Phuck Phil Nelson

Ain't no mutha fuckin' body love you yo… you stoopid.


Freedown alldeaftones anda theycome yellcold atmospheresphere isthe mostfor anyonefounders ofthan thanof riledginger?


I would have kicked them out too. Full Circle is one of the single worst movies in the long sad history of single worst movies and Solvan Naim is an arrogant prick engaging in serious jackassery. You know the deal – forget these foolish filmmakers and move on. Can't listen to someone willing to throw a fest under the tires for some bullshit press written by one cock suckin' fuck like this.


It's clear that this article is of design and malicious intent. The author should think again if he considers himself a journalist. Where is the other side? Can you provide the interview tapes, uncut and in full? Are you professional enough to even record your interviews?

Tyrone D Murphy

Interesting article, also very interesting comments, so many with so much to say.

We have been covering Scam and dubious film festivals and have been naming names in our free magazine Universal Film Magazine, what we find appalling is that there are still many scam festivals out there ripping off the nicer side of society, young impressionable filmmakers. We have covered many different types of film festivals the world over, from festivals blacklisting filmmakers, festival organizers giving all the awards to themselves despite filmmakers paying a submission fee and even festivals that just take the money and run. We have tried very hard to create some sort of voluntary organization that will stamp out this activity. we called it UFFO, the Universal Film and Festival Organization, a non-for-profit with over 200 film festivals, its simply a start. A way forward for festival organizers and filmmakers that could well be a solution to a question that been asked for many years. How can we stop corruption with some film festivals that give the rest a bad name?

Tyrone D Murphy
Founder of UFFO


Independent films suck and independent film directors are stupid thats why I only watch movies in theaters and on tv because theyr the only good movies.

Sam I Am

Green eggs and mother fucking ham baby.


whack out man out media out ran out here! Time zones are global around and key, abound mostly.

Jeremy El

I have always taken articles like this with a grain of salt, regardless of the author or publication. Accusations against film festivals have been on-going for years, even against institutions like Sundance. I see it this way: if these complaints warrant my (or anyone else's attention, then they would at the very least, warrant a case in small claims court. Since there is no mention of these filmmakers taking the festival to court, I see it as a non-issue. If that kid really did put down 3 large in expenses to promote his screening (and I really hope he didn't) then I would think he'd have sense enough to take the festival to court to dispute it or at least get a written contract with the festival to confirm the locations and date, with promises that all expenses will be reimbursed should a change occur. Did any of this happen?

I also don't think the publisher really thought through just how damaging this article actually is, not just to the festival but also to the filmmakers they've profiled. The filmmakers will not be trusted again and any festival that has the brains enough to research their selected filmmakers before officially accepting them, is going to find this and reconsider the selection, just based on the fact that they cooperated with the author and was more than willing to talk trash about the event and its coordinators.

The other problem is all of the interns that volunteered with this festival did it for no reason. Because of this, they can no longer feature it on their resume of work 'nor utilize the festival for any necessary future recommendations, at least, if they plan on working in the New York Film Industry. It was all for nothing. I would think the publisher would have at least have thought this part through before making these complaints available for the entire world to see.

I am a festival coordinator in Boston, have been doing it for fifteen years now. At my event, we make all of our selected filmmakers sign an agreement before being accepted, essentially restricting them from participating in articles like this and talking bad about their experiences, should they have any. This is mainly due to one constant misconception: young filmmakers have the wrong idea about what to expect at a film festival and a very wrong idea on how important they are to the film industry as a whole. These misconceptions, more often than not, breed disappointment after disappointment. Independent film festivals are here to help, but you have to know how to use them and what to expect.

My heart goes out to Mr. Nelson and his entire crew. Mr. Nelson, it's clear you are surrounded by good, caring people and many of the filmmakers who have come to stand up for your festival obviously care deeply that they're putting their names on an article of this nature. That says more about your character than the actual article does. I do hope you bounce back from this and that the other members of the film community see past such hyperbole. In the meantime, ignore the noise. These people aren't worth your time. The fact that you've made it through seven years says a lot about your dedication and devotion to the indie film community.


The dedication and passion of the filmmakers involved here is inspiring, if not incredibly disconcerting. It's clear there are, I will guess, three or four of the same people posting over and over again. I assume one filmmaker who hates the festival, one filmmaker who loves the festival and the festival itself, all posting under false identities to get the same arguments across over and over again, mainly in an effort to give the illusion that there are lots of people who actually give a fuck. The challenge of course is to see whoever holds out the longest, the winner gets their opinions at the top of the page indefinitely. Regardless of who wins this pissing contest, it's not going to change what happened at the festival this year and the festival isn't going to apologize or take responsibility and I don't believe they should have to. Especially not with the kinds of personalities who have been posting here. I think it's time both parties moved on and walked away from this mess. You're just giving the publisher what they want and neither of you will benefit from it. To the filmmakers: in case you haven't noticed, a lot of people are laughing at you. To the festival: some people seems to think you've been silent about this but its clear that some of these posts seems to either come from you or come from people who are posting on your behalf. It's time all of you stop. No one actually cares. It's not a story, it's not a problem. It's stupid.


I have a story for you all. I was at a film festival in Los Angeles where I met one of the volunteers, cute college girl who wanted to be in film. To make a long story short, we hooked up the night before the awards and had a great time in my hotel room. The first time and then a few hours later started on a second time. She was prepping me orally when all of a sudden she stopped and threw up all over my junk. I'm like "what the fuck!" It turns out I had shit all over the place while she was blowing me. The food and coffee the film festival had provided had given me diarrhea. Funny shit. The fucked up part was that there appeared to be whole crab legs in her puke.

I will def go back to that film festival. Fucking love LA man.

Cindy Lauper I'm assuming that was the crazy filmmaker posing as the editor of IW… If not, pretty unprofessional.


I am not associated with anybody here. So I must admit, at first I found this thread to be mildly amusing and I've been occasionally checking back to read the mess. But as it continues to escalate, I am truly becoming concerned about the mental/emotional stability of this “filmmaker”.

So there was a scheduling issue with your little movie at a little festival? When I read that you threw a tantrum at the theater, I just thought you were probably a little immature, naive, and obnoxious (yeah, nice Instagram photo on June 26 of you and your gang proudly disrupting other filmmakers’ screenings; nice job). But then you spend the next two months on a personal crusade to insult the festival, the festival staff, every filmmaker that has ever screened at the festival, and anybody who comments in support of the festival?

To the "Full Circle" group, I hope you realize that this conduct is seriously hurting ALL of your futures working in film. A lot of us are not going to want to work with anybody associated with this film because of the immaturity and hostility displayed.

And to Solvan… seriously kid. Grow up, get some therapy, and enjoy your future as a P.A.

Phew! 200!

Finally got to 200 comments. Phew!

Middle Finger Judger

Yeah that's the way I like it.

Crying Baby Judger

Wai wai wait… STOP that baby from cryin in the rain. Shit Axel Rose ain't got nuthin on you wrap sta's!

Sucky Website Judger

This website sucks, I hereby do declare!

Sucky Author Judger

The author of this article sucks, I hereby do declare!

Sucky Article Judger

This article sucks, I hereby do declare!

Dana Harris

It has come to our attention that some readers want to know and understand the purpose of this article written by Jason Guerrasio. As Editor in Chief of Indiewire, I have been tasked with this explanation. Our mission, for the record, is to destroy the Manhattan Film Festival and its founder Philip Nelson, at the request of our friends at the Tribeca Film Institute. None of us actually like MFF and Nelson 'nor the artsy fartsy films he programs.

Thanks and let's all hope for the worst when it comes to MFF.

Your friend, Dana.


The people on this board are vicious to say the least – to say more would give you pricks the satisfaction. Indiewire are fools and so are the filmmakers who follow them.

Why MFF & Philip J. Nelson Are Done

Philip Nelson has taken fees for filmmakers to submit. Yes, this pay to view and consider film festival system doesn't guarantees acceptance, HOWEVER, when a film is accepted it is assumed, by the filmmaker, that it would be treated respectfully and with the greatest care as a museum would treat a priceless work of art. The valiant staff at has exposed that this is not the case and that, in fact, Nelson and his team of gangsters at the festival, treat the movies they accept like shit. Dirt in the grinder. Your actions speak louder than your words – it is so loud that its deafening! As old time projectionists would say: "you got light, you got sound, what the fuck do I care?" Hopefully now you know, Mr. Nelson, why it's important to care about the exhibition of every single title you choose to screen. You might have light and sound, but that doesn't make the screening a legit festival exhibition. Expectations from filmmakers are high, especially with a name like the Manhattan Film Festival. It is not YOUR name, it is the city's name. It belongs to the city's film community and you only acquired recently, likely out of circumstance. But it is not YOUR name.

To the filmmakers who Nelson copped out on as far as sending their films to venues like The Producer's Club and some lame Hunter College classroom: you're not alone. Don't allow festivals to treat your work this way. Do not send Manhattan Film Festival your work and do not do business with Philip Nelson. He can come up with all the excuses in the world, but forgiveness should not be within sight, not for him.

Jason Guerrasio is an Idiot

Anyone who was dumb enough to read past this opening paragraph deserves to be scammed:

"There are thousands of film festivals in North America. Of those, a majority have significant track records — that is, their films find distribution, the filmmakers raise their profiles, or, at a minimum, the festival has a solid reputation that enhances the filmmakers' stature by proxy. "

Really? Where'd you pull those numbers from? You shit stained asshole?

Amy Field

A message for Mr. Jason Guerrasio: at the very least disclose your true intentions for writing this absurd article. What was the catalyst that prompted you to find these particular filmmakers? How did you find out about the Manhattan Film Festival? Why choose to brand them as not being trustworthy rather than send them ideas on how to improve? Why the blatant vicious attack? Surely there are plenty of happy filmmakers as some of the comments have suggested, why not talk to them? Why risk your journalistic integrity for this nonsense?


Unbelievable and nasty on part of the festival organizers to put any filmmaker through such hell. I do hope they get what's coming to them. Good work indiewire. There is no excuse for failure. As for the comments and arguments; it doesn't matter how nice a person is or how good his intentions are, if you're this bad at what you do, then you shouldn't do it. Plain and simple. The last thing a saturated market needs is a festering turd of a festival like this.


Since it has been established that the author of the article work for Tribeca, I have taken a moment to look into whether or not Nelson had a previous dispute with the organization. It turns out that he and Ruiz sued Tribeca over theft of their business model. Google search philip nelson manhattan film festival and look for an article form the Guardian. I cannot post the link here.

sullivan name

I wish I were intelligent enough to have an opinion on this non story hyperbole.


This article isn't good for anybody. The lower tier festivals and filmmakers alike are going to be negatively affected by this propaganda. Unbelievable. The content might be true, but I suspect it is taken out of context, which in this case is important as a lot of reputations are at risk here. The festival director just as much as those movie directors that were more than happy to throw him under the bus.

Trend Setter Ted

Like every other industry in New York, the film industry is chock full of desperate unqualified wannabees. It has gotten to the point where some of them have realized that they're never going to be successful filmmakers or business owners so they've taken it among themselves to start these sort of film festivals or similar events and services out of the hope that the much more respectable mainstream institutions will recognize them as an official authority on whatever it is they do. MFF is one example. Others include a relatively new organization called Big Vision Empty Wallet who claim to want to help out filmmakers but haven't really done much for anyone. The two organizations don't seem to have a solid five year business plan like a respectable corporation would have.

Respectable film festivals in New York are the ones that have been around for decades and proven their worth by lasting. Young people need to avoid the new.

Movie Director from Queens

MCF hit it home with their comment on the programming and awards panel. I don't hold much stock in the operations of the event part because anything could happen (even in more organized festivals). However, Nelson should come forward and publish the names and professional credentials of everyone on his programming panel, in addition to awards so that filmmakers can make a more informed decision on whether or not to pay his ripoff submission fees.

Chicago Filmmaker

Very interesting article as well as the comments. Definitely a good read. Though there seem to be some good points in both the article and comments, as a filmmaker I wouldn't submit to this festival just because it seems like it would be a headache either way.

Los Angeles writer-director

Pardon the length, but I hope it's useful to anyone finding this page who's unfamiliar with MFF. Any article about a smaller film festival can have a huge impact, since it will appear in searches done by filmmakers trying to figure out if a fest is worth entering. I've ruled out some fests after reading a negative article. Only the bigger festivals get sufficient press coverage that a single piece is highly unlikely to make or break them. Thus the author of such an article and the publication or website that publishes it wield tremendous power. They have an ethical obligation to do especially thorough research, and write a piece (and title) that's utterly impartial. Unfortunately and uncharacteristically, this one does not seem to fit the bill.

A lesson I draw from this is that different filmmakers handle situations differently – which says at least as much about them as the situation. More on that in a moment.

A film of mine screened at the Manhattan Film Festival last year. It has also screened at 14 other festivals, most of which I've gone to. The boost in exposure from MFF absolutely helped my movie, as well as my lead actress, who's based in NYC. We got great word of mouth. The other filmmakers I met there were also happy with their experience.

Some of the festivals my film has gotten into were smaller ones with an indie vibe, like MFF. Others were big, with major sponsors, screening Hollywood studio films as well as indies, celebrities in attendance. I've made a point of getting to know the festival director(s) of every festival I've been to. All those I've met are clearly driven by a passion for filmmaking and helping filmmakers. I found Philip Nelson to be among the warmest, most down to earth and accommodating. There were some minor hiccups the evening my film screened. But the fact is, even though it's illogical to expect a smaller indie festival to run as smoothly as a Cannes or Sundance, I've seen hiccups at *every* single festival I've been to, whether big or small. Festivals have thousands of moving parts (and personalities), and are oft staffed largely by volunteers. Stuff happens. When it does, nobody's more concerned about it than the filmmakers and festival directors. They have the most riding on a screening going well. Philip went out of his way to solve the minor hiccups personally, and we had a great screening to a packed house, with tremendous audience response.

Most of the filmmakers I've encountered on the festival circuit have been absolutely delightful. I've seen filmmakers at fests where major problems damaged their experience far worse than anything suggested in this piece, even after having traveled far despite limited resources, yet they remained perfectly affable and upbeat, and found a way to make things work out with helpful festival staffs. In contrast, I've seen a minority of filmmakers who experienced the slightest hitch (or only a perceived slight, like a festival director being too busy to answer their call swiftly) and behaved obnoxiously, with a grotesque sense of self-importance and entitlement. I'm not commenting on the people or situations profiled in this piece, as I wasn't there this year and have no clue what really happened. I'm just saying that when crises occur, people's real nature tends to spill out. In this collaborative business, if you can't handle crises big and small with grace and professionalism, it may not be the best field for you. It's hard for me to imagine what it would take to push someone as soft-spoken, hard working and good-hearted as Philip to be viewed as unfair or untrustworthy in any way. I have serious trouble buying it.

Since a few people have been outright nasty toward Eric Norcross in their comments here, I'm compelled to add that I met him at MFF as a fellow filmmaker, before he started helping out with the festival. It was from Eric's example that I learned how to make the most of a festival experience. Even before I got into town, I noticed that he alone was posting on MFF's Facebook page every night about all the films he'd seen that day which he'd admired. Many filmmakers don't even bother seeing many other films at a festival – being so busy promoting their own – much less spend time promoting complete strangers' work. But festivals are not only about getting our films seen. They're about community, networking, and helping out our fellow filmmakers. Eric was enthusiastically supportive of others. As someone else here mentioned, he also does interviews with budding filmmakers on his site, and helps promote their screenings at other festivals, which is extremely generous and helpful. He and I have different taste and may not see eye to eye on some films and filmmakers, but what we do share is tremendous love of film and a strong desire to help talented fellow filmmakers succeed. Kudos to him for that, and for inspiring it in others.

Darmok Casey

Moms, this is what happens when you resort to giving the entire little league team a trophy for "trying". They moan and groan when they don't get recognized for their efforts in the real world. Play the game, win, lose, whatever. Move on.

Sandy Hook Filmmaker

Crack team you have here indiewire. Really, expert investigating. Where did you pull those numbers from? Your ass? Has the author or any of the editors from indiewire ever attend this festival? Ever? It's perfectly legit. It may have had some operational issues but I wouldn't treat it in this regard, it's unfair to say the least.

Doc Holiday

JASON GUERRASIO is a HACK who seems to be trying to brand himself as the savior of independent film. The fact of the matter is that he works for the Tribeca Film Institute and is likely representing Tribeca by writing this ridiculous and bias article. Some of the filmmakers he interviewed have come forward and verified that Guerrasio left out important, positive statements, in an effort to slander the Manhattan Film Festival.

If the Tribeca Film Festival had the right mind, they would pressure their mother organizations, the TFI to fire JASON GUERRASIO for misrepresenting the festival. No matter what their statement is, it's very clear that he represents Tribeca.

MFF Website

"The Manhattan Film Festival was recently named “25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee: 2012” by MovieMaker Magazine. Our mission is dedicated to developing and discovering new ways to help filmmakers pursue a career out of filmmaking. In the process we introduce filmmakers and their work to new and expanding audiences. Every year we work to program a diverse film lineup ranging from student filmmakers and first time directors/actors to the industry's most accomplished talent. To support independent filmmakers we offer a widely popular revenue sharing program. The festival is covered by local, national, and international media including the outlets found below."

Anna Warren

Is this film festival related in any way to the film festivals that the French woman ran? Or is this different? I submitted my film this winter and they rejected it. They were nice about it though and invited me to resubmit next year without a fee. I thought that gesture stood out above most festivals. Usually when I get a rejection notice, it's a loss. At least they're offering to give my film another look.

Is it really against withoutabox policy to cancel a screening? That seems like an iffy policy because what if a movie maker asks for it to be cancelled or what if something goes wrong with the print? This has happened to me in the past and I can't imagine a festival getting in trouble for something like that.

socal guy

There is a lot more to this story than has been included here. I think that the festival had its reasons and that the filmmaker fully understands what those reasons are. I do not think for a second that the Full Circle people are the victims that they claim to be. I do think, however, there is an enormous amount of ego surrounding this situation, which would explain why no one in the real media gives a hoot about it.

Was it right or wrong to kick a film out of the festival? Depends on the real reason why and I don't think we'll ever know what truly happened. It's not a definite right or wrong. This answer lies in the details and a lot of those details haven't been provided here.


FUCK. Smoke some weed and walk away.


My God! Has indiewire become the fox news of the film industry? If it isn't obvious to everyone that this article is meant to slander the festival and not ask any real question about festival purpose, then you're all hateful morons. My respect for this website has fallen, substantially. On top of that, the personal attacks that some of the people who have responded to this article are inappropriate and indiewire is a disgrace for allowing this level of behavior to continue the way it has. Remove the comments, remove the article. I unsubscribe. Sheesh!

Jerry Hoffman

Anyone has an opinion on the New York City International Film Festival? I was doing a research on film festivals to submit my film in New York. And, I came across their site. So, I did some more searching and found some reports of them in Ripoff Reports. They also have a bad reputation on some twitter accounts stating how the founder Roberto Rizzo is a scam artist. Wonder if anyone submit their film to this festival and what are your opinion. Thanks.

Shelly K.

I can't say that I would not trust the festival because of an angry filmmaker. Looking at the comments, I get the impression that they are very unprofessional and probably difficult to work with. I would assume there is more to the story. I wonder if the writer was professional enough to record it, so we can hear the whole story, and see if Nelson really said why the film was axed. I've been to film festivals where things change (like venues,times,discussions,etc.), and events are cancelled. It's part of the deal if it is not a huge fest. The article said at the end, the filmmaker just wanted a place to screen their film and were provided with a place. Sounds like they were mad about WHERE they were screening, so apparently they just wanted a big show? You could watch the greatest film ever created from a lounge seat in a garage, but you forget where you are because the film was that GREAT!
I've met the founders in the past, seem like nice guys with a nice back story and never got the impression they were out to make a buck. I don't know if Eric has any real connection to the festival other than volunteering this year, so I am not going to let his rants dictate my perception of the festival and the opportunities it offers. I don't expect a response from the festival directly, as I think any professional organization would not respond to the malicious comments on here. Maybe they could release something on their website or Facebook page mentioning it briefly, but it wouldn't make any sense to waste much time on this opinion piece based on an angry writer and his friends. I see the title of the piece changed after the lawyer posted below. That should tell you something about the piece written.

Sara Martin

There is a lot of extreme opinions about this event, between the filmmakers mainly, but also from some of the volunteers. Aside from one of the comments made by the festival's attorney, the festival isn't really involved with this discussion. It may be more productive and satisfying for both sides of the aisle to discuss what the festival could change to improve next year's event. Keeping sarcasm and angry responses to yourselves for a moment, can some of you post your ideas without insulting the people at the festival? Festival people, can you take suggestions without defending yourselves? Several people here have mentioned the ego of the filmmakers, but the festival has also demonstrated a bit of ego. Ego and ego do not go together. Humble up for a moment and work this out. The he said she said responses aren't the least bit productive. Since the festival director seems to be staying away from this, maybe this site isn't the place to settle your difference. I know I wouldn't want my legal disputes to be published for the entertainment of the film industry. It's not fair game.

Beth Champ

I suspect that there is more to this article than the website or its author want the readers to know. No one just comes out of the woodwork to call an organization out like this and not provide counter arguments. This article is biased.

The author clearly has built himself up with respectable credentials, but what I don't understand is why he would risk it to call a festival out in a defamatory manner. The author asks the question of whether or not festivals like this have a place in society, my answer is yes. Of course they do. They might not get along with all the directors that come through, but that doesn't mean they don't have the right to try and grow as an institution.

Indie Filmmaker

No, this festival is not a scam festival. Scam festivals either take your submission fee and don't happen or they create a category with an entry fee and then do not program that category. Example accepts features then programs all shorts…

But the HUGE ISSUE with this festival is that they did something unethical when they removed a film because of an argument with the filmmaker. It sounds like someone on the festival end lost their cool and then made a rash and morally wrong decision. Both parties should be guilty as I'm sure that the filmmaker was probably being rude. But the festival has damaged their integrity in that respect.

And I don't think the festival personal took the event very seriously until now when they were called out on it in a major indie publication. For example, Eric Norcross joked about it on June 26 through twitter when he said "WOW. What a crazy evening! Never thought I'd hear my name called out in protest!!!! #freePR"

Though now he's not not enjoying the free press now…

Oscar Michelen

I represent the Manhattan Film Festival (“MFF”) and I write to demand the immediate retraction of the headline Is This Film Festival a Scam? Sometimes It Isn’t So Obvious which headlines an Indiewire article, dated July 30, 2013, by Jason Guerrascio. While we disagree with many of the statements and quotes in the article itself, it is the false headline that crosses the line from First Amendment-protected speech and reporting to defamation and libel.
Defamatory headlines are actionable even though the matter following is not, unless the headlines clearly indicate the substance of the matter to which they refer and unless they are a fair index of the matter contained in a truthful report. MFF enjoys a growing reputation of being a fair and popular film festival for new and rising filmmakers. Labeling MFF as a “scam” in anyway harms MFF and will make it more difficult for MFF to obtain submissions for next year’s event. I therefore demand that Indiewire remove the word “scam” from its headline and find a more accurate and less defamatory way to express the content of the article. Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Laura Metcalf

This is the lousiest evidence for a "scam" I've ever seen. I expect a notable site like to take the time to provide a fair and balanced review of a local festival. If there's any kind of dark underbelly of independent film, then it would most likely exist with organizations like, which operates websites like imdb, withoutabox, createspace and a slew of other sites that draw independent filmmakers. This festival proudly claims that it showed upwards of 150 films this year. That's a big program for an annual film festival. Most of the festivals I've covered range between 50 and 75 official selections on average, so most of their paying submissions are rejected and left without recourse. It becomes a "donation" to the festival. The filmmakers who lost these fees simply have to move on. From what I understand, the people at the Manhattan Film Festival have increased their program as their submissions have grown. This is unprecedented, especially since they don't seem to have the resources or sponsors to make it feasible. Obviously they have't handled it well and it's clear to me that they could handle it better. I'm sure that Mr. Nelson, Ruiz and Norcross will figure it out. They've come this far and from what I've read in the comments, it seems like they've made enormous progress in changing the status quo of independent film for the better, regardless of the negativity here. I can only imagine what it must have been like dealing with some of these filmmaker personalities.


Noise noise noise the problem here is that you are all giving this website exactly what it wants. Hits, twitter blasts an controversy at the expense of a film festival and the filmmakers. If any party here is being disrespectful to filmmakers it's indiewire for allowing this trash to be published.


Eric, I think you and the festival will be alright. It could be worse, it could be on the nightly news. LOL! Imagine how that would feel. A month from now this will be internet history. ; )


Eric, the article is informative. It tells filmmakers its not easy to screen your film. Everything and anything will happen and you must roll with the punches and have a thick skin. Did filmmakers pick that up? Some did some didn't. Its to bad they used MFF as a target. But this is entertainment and MFF wants to be involved in entertainment. So Eric, roll with the punches and use this press to your advantage.


Now this discussion is getting ridiculas. There are people on hear talking about problems of the world rather than the subject of the article. Its a good article Indiwire. Its funny and informative. It's people's own choice if they want to submit to MFF. But Indiewire, please keep the funny articles coming.


MFF is not a scam. I've been screening in festivals for years and screened at this year's MFF. Yes, there are things about my experience that I wish had gone smoother, but my film played to a sold out house at the Quad Cinema in NYC. I received press and made a bunch of new industry connections. They even paid me a cut of the box office.

This is a small festival with limited resources. If you go into it knowing that it's not Tribeca and not expecting any of the glamour of a major festival, you'll have the opportunity to make new connections and expand your network.

Sam Kensington

Good morning. I found this article in my inbox with a note, please head on over and defend this festival. I won't elaborate on who sent it, but I will not defend either side. This is a non-issue. Someone has it out for the festival, that much is clear. Do they deserve this? Probably, but probably not to this extreme. It's articles like this that reminds me of what luxury our problems in the New York City film industry actually are. People are hungry, getting beaten up at home, dying over seas and someone actually wasted their time to write this nonsense. Others wasted their time to back up the author, and further more, forcing others to waste their time to defend themselves against the accusations here. With all that's going on in the world, it's shameful that you all are wasting your time and talents on this. You're filmmakers, make films and stop with this childlike behavior.


I wonder how many of these screen names are really all Eric Norcross still tryin to save this festival…

Ellie Angel

There have been movies from MFF that got picked up for distribution. Most recently was a film about 9/11. It's available on Netflix. Not sure how involved the festival was in making that happen, but to insist that all films that show at MFF don't get distribution is a lie. It also doesn't mean anything if it were true. Indiewire, you're losing me with this article.


Filmmakers, don't judge the event by this article alone. The writer clearly made up his decision when he went into this project to slander MFF. Sure there are some filmmakers who are unhappy with their experiences but that doesn't make it a scam 'nor does it mean it's not normal. I hope the site has enough mind to at least edit this article to something much more reasonable than what it is in its current form.

Alan Smithee (alias)

A little more than ten years ago I won a recognition at a major festival and this year I won a prize at Manhattan. My experience at both weren't much different, except that they didn't have printed programs at Manhattan and I got to interact directly with the festival director at this one. I suppose there are pros and cons to being a smaller festival. I can't imagine why anyone should feel scammed.


"There are thousands of film festivals in North America. Of those, a majority have significant track records — that is, their films find distribution, the filmmakers raise their profiles, or, at a minimum, the festival has a solid reputation that enhances the filmmakers' stature by proxy."

This is a pretty frustrating opening statement as it seems to be completely subjective (based on nothing but personal speculation) and is largely false (as opposed to what one might hope… the truth). By my research, of the thousands of festivals in North America nearly 50% are less than 6 years old…not what I would call a "majority with significant track records". In addition, (by my admittedly rough count) less than 10% of the films screened in these festivals find legitimate distribution opportunities. I won't even bother to comment on the idea of quantifying a "raised profile" or "stature by proxy".

This, to me, is pretty indicative of the nature of Mr. Guerrasio's writing and of his limited experience and knowledge of the subject matter. As an independent filmmaker trying to make it in an extraordinary challenging environment, I would greatly appreciate if organizations like Indiwire would use a bit more journalistic integrity. …or do they even care?

Timothy L. Anderson

Hello, my name is Timothy L. Anderson and I am one of the independent writer-directors interviewed for the above article by Jason Guerrasio. Jason contacted me and asked me if I wouldn't mind sharing my experiences at MFF with him, which I had no problem doing. He was very accurate and thorough in his interviews with me and also in his follow up efforts.

My film "Two Hundred Thousand Dirty" was screened at MFF in the fashion detailed above, which did cause a lot of last minute confusion and chaos. However, I want to point out that at no point during my limited communications with and then my experience at MFF did I ever feel scammed. I cannot speak for other filmmakers who did or those who didn't, but our screening hiccup was the venue mistake. Why and how we were never notified directly of the venue mistake or change I am not sure; only MFF knows whether it was a last minute change or if I was told the incorrect venue from the start. Either way, it doesn't matter – there was a mistake somewhere and MFF (the festival director Philip) took full responsibility for this mistake and confusion when I spoke to him on the afternoon of the screening (although I did wait two hours in the Quad lobby before being able to meet him as the article accurately points out). Upon discussing this problem with Philip, he was apologetic and I did recommend they provide a shuttle service of some sort to the Hunter College venue from the Quad since we estimated around 80-110 people would attend our screening and if they were simply told to go to a new venue nearly 50 blocks uptown when they arrive at the Quad, my fear was many people would simply not go (as I likely wouldn't if in their shoes). Philip agreed to this proposal and over the next two hours the MFF tried to arrange a shuttle service, but Philip told me the festival had to book a limo service when they couldn't find a shuttle service last minute in NYC (which I am sure was relatively expensive and the festival paid for entirely). At no point did I "demand limos" or anything along those lines, Philip explained that this was the option that could be procured last minute in NYC with a driver. Although this all stemmed from the festival's venue mistake, I was very appreciative of the fact the Philip and Lucy (an unsung festival volunteer) did work their butts off to try to make the best out of the situation. All in all, we did screen at Hunter College and did retain much of our audience thankfully. The projection was a touch green, dark and the sound system in place a bit antiquated, but those are typical conditions at many college auditoriums. As I mentioned to Jason, it certainly isn't our first time screening in a less than state-of-the-art venue at a festival and it definitely won't be our last so it didn't bother me a great deal. The festival did not have introduction/moderation person at the screening, but there was a mic so I didn't mind doing it myself at all (I think festival intros are awkward anyway for me).

In terms of the article, what Jason details regarding my experience at MFF is all factually correct and accurate; however, let me emphasize once more that I didn't feel scammed at all at any point. I do think the festival suffers from being very understaffed, disorganization and communication problems, but I find those things are common at many festivals who often rely on a small staff and volunteers. Overall, I want to thank those who worked with the festival and all of those enthusiastic audience members who rolled with venue hiccup, still came to our screening, and made it a success.

Lawrence Azola

Having a bad website and being disorganized isn't a scam. Come on indiewire, I know you can do better than this.


Hey Lane you are right. Basically it was an excuse for the filmakers to show to their film screenings in a limo. LOL!! Were there any paparazzi there?


I still stand by the scam notion. Any festival that requires you pay a fee just for them to look at your film,then reject it, yet keep the money; in my eyes is a scam. But indie filmmakers are desparate and clueless to the exhibition side and will do anything just to get their film screened. There are otherways of getting your film seen outside of a festival and you do not have to pay. Thats something the indie world still can't figure out.
I'm sure the festival gets several hundred entries yet selects one hundred to be screened. Thats a lot of money in the festivals pocket. Then on top of that they are charging tickets. With all this money coming in, they can at least hire some people to keep things organized.


There is no real reason to have this article here except to deliberately damage the reputations of some very good people, albeit, underfunded people. In the grand scheme of things, it makes no sense why anyone would write this absurdity. Then again, the film industry is cutthroat and certain people will do everything they can for publicity. As Lane said, it's a non story.


Gibson, Anderson, Naim – I won an award at the festival last year does this make me one of the bad guys? GOOD! Get over yourselves, you're a bunch of losers.

Lilian Gomez

A film I was an actor in played at Hunter this year, in the Lang auditorium. It wasn't ideal but most of the attendees seemed to enjoy it. Being in a real movie theater like the Quad would have been nice, but at this point my friends and I will take what we can get. It's not easy getting a medium length movie programmed at a festival. At least they're open to it.

Lane C.

I realized what the story is after reading some of the comments below. I suppose there is no such thing as bad press. The filmmakers get a little bit of light and the festival does too.

Lane C.

So let me get this straight: the festival director and a filmmaker had a miscommunication about the venue, the festival director responded by dumping money into free limo rides for the filmmaker and his guests. So what is the complaint? This is a non story.


57 comments so far…(now 58). Is that a record? Many of the posts speak to the giant divide between filmmaker expectations (often naive and based on an image of the indie world that hasn't existed in over a decade) and the modern film festival market (often chaotic, low-rent, and inconsequential). How about a piece on that, IndieWire? (Perhaps with a sidebar on the arguably-obsolete monopolistic cash-cow that is WithoutABox.)

Film Student at DFA

I am a former film student at DFA. I met Eric at another festival he was volunteering at. He has been instrumental in getting me videography work since I graduated. I was invited to the festival this year by Eric who insisted that it's a good festival to get to know other people in the independent film community. I wasn't a selected filmmaker or anything, he gave me a festival pass to utilize. I had the misfortune of coming by on the day that guy outside of the theater was protesting. I felt very bad for Eric and the other festival people. I hope this is cleared up. They seem to want to do a lot but don't have the resources and it's clear they've surrounded themselves with people who have no respect for what they go through to make festivals happen.

Michael DeG.

A lot of filmmakers have screened at MFF and come away with mixed feelings. Some of them unknown first time filmmakers, others established with an understanding of how the industry works. It should be noted that many much more established filmmakers have given the Manhattan Film Festival a clean bill of health, so to speak. I've known their programming adviser Eric Norcross since 2011, when I met him over at the Anthology Film Archives. Eric is a person who loves independent film, to the point where he can be called an extremist to some degree. He has given a lot of his free time to promoting the indie by producing video interviews with filmmakers. Look at his track record, it's evident with the videos he produced for the new filmmakers series. Sure, they're not great, but I don't see other filmmakers taking the reigns to help out their brothers, not to this degree of devotion. I don't think Eric would get involved with a festival if he didn't believe they were in it to contribute something good to a very tough industry. I think the nay-sayers need to get their priorities in check and stop spewing the "s" word.

Kelly Parker

Oh dear – I clicked on the link but never expected to read about a festival I screened at! Has anyone ever met Phil? He's like one of the nicest guys I've ever encountered at a film festival! This article has stink written all over it. It may be disorganized to some degree and the venues might not be the best of the best (although Quad is DCP equipped and a very good venue), it is most definitely not a scam by any measure. I think that word is being severely misused here.


This festival SUCKS!


I am a selected filmmaker from the 2011 season and won an award. I am concerned because I feel I've truly achieved something and this article makes me think that it's not a real achievement. I'm insulted actually. I've made some progress as a storyteller and my award means a lot to me. What indiewire is saying is that it means nothing? This is unacceptable. My experience at the Manhattan Film Festival was pleasant and I came out of it with an appreciation for what people like Nelson and Ruiz go through to make these events happen. It saddens me that they now have to deal with public attacks from filmmakers who were unhappy with it. Why couldn't the filmmakers just work with the festival to find a common ground? Why the poop storm? All you're hurting is people like me and my peers who also screened at the festival.

Lesley Merchant

I attended this festival as just an audience member and can confirm the projection and disorganization problems. I had some questions for the filmmaker and was not able to ask any cause there was no Q&A as there was supposed to be. This article is no surprise to me… Sorry to the filmmakers that went through these horrible events.

Ellin Jimmerson

I am one of the film makers whose movie won an award, a Film Heals Award, at the MFF for my migrant justice documentary, The Second Cooler. I was there for the full 10 day event. I am proud to have been included.
While I agree that there was some disorganization and a small problem with the projection, the festival did not make any promises to me that it did not keep. The only thing I felt I had been promised was a theater in which to screen the movie, a time to screen it, and a portion of the ticket sales. The organizers delivered on all these plus an opening night party, a good seminar having to do with crowd funding, opportunities to interact with other independent film makers as well as with a few bigger names, and a closing night event.
The word "scam" is a serious one–a very serious one. I cannot think how the word is justified. Disorganized? Yes. Disappointing for some? Yes, possibly with reason.
Let me speak to my experience. I was thrilled to have a conversation with Kathleen Chalfant, for example, who expressed interest in my cause (justice for illegal immigrants and guest workers) and in my documentary.
I also was able to watch some excellent, creative movies in the company of their actors and directors including "Somebody Marry Me," which not only was innovative in terms of production, but one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time. I saw "How We Got Away With It" which looked fabulous and had a truly unexpected ending. I am proud that I was able to mingle with their directors and actors as one of them.
As for the attentiveness of the directors, another film maker and I asked Philip Nelson if he would like to join us for coffee at a restaurant across the street from the Quad. He replied that he would, but needed to be at the Quad to help resolve an issue. We could watch him from the window of the restaurant as he did indeed seem to be trying to help resolve an issue.
Later in the festival, I attended the screenings at Hunter College. I was there until rather late one night, so Philip walked me outside, hailed a cab, and paid my fare.
I also had the opportunity to sit and visit with Eric Norcross at the Producer's Club for a while.
I believe that Philip and Eric are good men with a good vision–a necessary vision of helping truly small, independent film makers, especially those who have a social justice wrong they are trying to right, get their movies noticed.
It was not for ego that I submitted my film to them or to anyone else. I submitted because terrible human rights violations are going unnoticed and unreported. Movies about these terrible injustices, which don't follow a prescribed formula, are having a difficult time being programmed. And so I very much appreciate the MFF and the other smaller (and not so small) festivals which have made the decision to schedule my movie.
Do I have complaints or, rather, suggestions for improvement? Yes, a few. I've communicated them to Philip Nelson and Eric Norcross appropriately, in conversations and private emails.
My hope for them and the MFF is that they can recover from this. We social justice film makers need them. The people they are advocating for by including films like mine–young kids trying to ford the Rio Grande or cross the Sonora Desert right now to be with their parents or guest workers being sprayed with deadly pesticides as I write–need them.
Phil and Eric: change what you need to change, keep the faith, run the race.


Eric Norcross, I find you to be suspicious as well. You're a festival organizer which explains why you are on the war path defending MFF (and probably your cut of the submission fees). But I understand that you have also screened with the festival and won an award. Sounds to me like a conflict of interest if you're working with the fest on it's programming and then giving yourself awards. MFF is not a scam but actions like that do hurt its integrity.


I think its great that Indiewire is calling out these festivals. These festivals market themselves like they can offer you the the world, then you find out that the only thing they can do right is deposit your $50.00 submission fee in their bank account. Please Indiewire, keep calling out these unorganized festivals!

S. A. Berman

Hi all. So my film played this festival and won an award.
I make it a point to go as many nights to a festival as I can.
So I saw a lot of what went on.
Was the festival understaffed? Did the head of the festival have to be hospitalized mid-festival?
Was there a bit of disorganization? The answer is yes to all of these questions. However – the small staffed worked extra hard to try to make things happen and to try to fix issues as they arose. This is not a highly funded festival. These appear to be people who want to help "smaller" filmmakers start to get known and to create some buzz for themselves.
Here was my experience:
I checked online diligently to see when my film screening was going to be. Would it have been nice to be emailed the information – absolutely. However I have learned from being at other smaller festivals that it pays to pitch in an help those who are helping you by supporting your film and giving it a screening. So I found my listing and it said hunter college. I had though it would be at the quad so I wrote an email to Phil and received an email back stating that my date was at hunter. So I sent out messages through social media informing people where the venue was. Because I checked and double checked in advance I was able to work with the festival.
It was a very nice theatre by the way.
Also I want to mention that some filmmaker nut I had never met was writing horrible comments online about me just because he was irritated and was looking for someone to lash out at. For some reason he chose me.
The festival backed me up and shut the guy down. To this day I don't know why he attacked but I am grateful to the festival for their full support of my film.
So in conclusion – I think everyone needs to be proactive. Would it be nice to not have to be? Sure but his is a small festival and we are up and coming filmmakers and we have to pay our dues.
This festival may have been disorganized and may not have had proper backups for all films but that does not make them a scam. And I want to add that my screening did not have a Q&A because something went wrong with trying to screen a short on an earlier date and to make sure the film got screened it was place before my feature. So there wasn't time for a Q&A. But I'd rather watch a great short than hear myself talk anyway.
This festival picks great films that try new things or are too low budget to get a shot somewhere else. We need these festivals and maybe they need our help as well.


Disorganization and bad logistics is not a scam.


Dodgy piece, guys. It's not fair to single out one festival, you should've done a piece on low-tier and regional festivals and perhaps included some of these anecdotes but included national context. MOST low-tier and regional fests are run by a tiny number of people, usually for nothing. Top festivals are bigger than their personnel; small fests tend to take on the character of their personnel by virtue of the many hats they must wear. They're only human, after all, and so personality clashes and tempests in teapots go with the territory. An article about *that* might've been warranted, but this looks just like a hatchet job. Eg. Putting "scam" in the headline is a sensationalist tabloid move and beneath you.


From someone who was there, I can assure you that Solvan Naim was in no way rude or disrespectful to anyone, nor confrontational. The police removed NO ONE, as a matter of fact, the police were informed prior to the peaceful protest and already knew what was going on. They actually tried to get Mr. Nelson out to talk to and negotiate a resolve, but Mr. Nelson refused. When you put your hard earned money into the marketing that it takes to get your film seen and noticed (especially as starving artists), it's very disconcerting to have this happen. They were so non-responsive during the process, that it became necessary to take several unplanned trips to the theater just to ask simple questions, because NO ONE would respond to e-mails and phone calls. The worst festival ever!!!! Watch out for them, because they will just pop up next year under a new name!! BEWARE!!!

Eric Norcross

I find this article as suspicious as the writer finds the festival. Mainly because the "journalist" who wrote this, managed to pinpoint the top most troublesome filmmakers of the past two years and tell their "horror" stories to the indie film world, only to do the entire indie film world a disservice.

I was a selected filmmaker at the 2012 film festival. Yes, I won an award. It might not mean much to the main stream film industry, but it sure the heck means a lot to me. Someone liked my work enough to give me a screening and on top of that, a plaque. Call it ego, or whatever the hell you want, but when you've gone through what I did to get my films made – dammit I want a place to screen and MFF provided it and I couldn't be happier.

On top of that, my invitation to submit to the 2012 festival was done so because I had submitted to the 2011 festival and Philip couldn't fit it into that year's program. My film had an awkward running time and most of the festivals I had submitted to had passed on it for this very reason. He invited me back because he truly believed in the film.

I remember Mira Gibson from last year. I remember her wigging out at her screening because she didn't like the venue and felt embarrassed. It was the Producer's Club. This was the same venue I got to screen my film, Caroline of Virginia and I had no complaints. My cast and family had no complaints either. In fact, none of the filmmakers that screened in my block had no complaints. In 2012 I attended almost all of the screenings, between the first Sunday of the festival and the last, and she was the only one who pitched a fit about the quality of the projection.

I had the pleasure of talking to Mira again, at her second screening. She was in a relatively good mood and told me she was "impressed" by the festival. I tried to talk to her about the film, but she didn't seem to want to talk to me about it. Her film was about a child rapist getting let out of prison, I thought it warranted some sort of social discussion but she didn't seem to have the ammo to go there. Strange that she was so angry about not having a Q&A… hmmm….

This year I had the pleasure of advising Philip on programming. I introduced a lot of filmmakers to Phil and the festival. Why didn't this article interview any of them? Or any of the other filmmakers who were happy with the festival this year? Come on Jason, I would have done an interview. I know lots of filmmakers who would have! Seems kind of biased reporting if you ask me.

The fact of the matter is that MFF is one of the only festivals left in the city that program truly independent cinema. Tribecca, Cannes, Sundance – good luck getting screened with them. Unless you have a celebrity willing to do some PR for your festival screening, you're likely not going to screen with any of them. By publishing this article, IndieWire has done a lot of damage to the festival and to the filmmakers whom the festival has supported.

Filmmakers need to understand that things can happen at any event. Festivals aren't locked down. I've seen Tribeca change show times, venues and even cut Q&A's. This is COMMON. Seems like all these filmmakers have never been in other festivals much and aren't aware of this. I'd be interested to see their reactions when they run into it again.

In closing, it's important that I inform all of you that some of the festivals that these filmmakers have had major successes at, also have similar complaints. Solvan Naim did well at NYCIFF, but if you look them up on RipOff Report, they've got a complaint from another filmmaker who had the same problem that Mira had with MFF: he was pissed off that he had been programmed at the Producer's Club. Mind you, I only found it because I was reading Solvan's Ripoff Report against MFF. Guess what? NYCIFF has Paramount Pictures on their step & repeat? Does this make this guy's complaint any less potent than Mira's? Sponsorship mean NOTHING.

Seems like nothing but a vicious circle of filmmakers who have no clue how to operate in the festival circuit. They just want to be treated like royalty. Give me a break. I've interviewed over 300 indie filmmakers in the past two years for various film festivals and screening series' here in the city and the group you elected to interview, Jason, are just about the worst personalities of the lot.

-Eric Norcross


Awful article. Is there nothing worse going on in the film festival world than one very small festival having a last minute change of venue for a screening? I feel like the writer had the brainstorm that there are shady film festivals out there (which there are), but then instead of doing any research to uncover examples that truly back up that point, simply attended a screening at the closest film festival to his apartment. The examples cited here–disorganization that effected a few screenings–don't justify the word "sham." It sounds like the organizers here made a sincere effort to fix the problems that popped up. They also gave a portion of box office back to the filmmakers, which is only mentioned in passing but to my mind says a lot about the motivations of the organizers–they're clearly not in this for the money. Is this really the best example you could find of a sham film festival?


Also… sometimes 5 different films are shown during a block (this happens with shorts), and every filmmaker thinks they'll have an hour for Q&A. Come on. Sometimes questions go on long. Sometimes there are equipment issues which delay a screening. If the Q&A is cut short or cancelled, we always direct filmmakers and audience members to a nearby place where they can talk about the movie. But you can't expect that your little 5 minute short will by guaranteed an hour-long panel discussion while the next block of films is delayed.


As someone who has volunteered at a lower-tier, independent film festival, I can say that none of this sounds malicious or scam-like, and in fact, seems pretty typical of a volunteer-run festival without big money and pros behind it. Formatting problems are not the festival's fault… who the heck thinks giving the projectionist a movie on a thumb drive is acceptable? I've witnessed instances where filmmakers turned in discs which weren't finalized, or showed up with a laptop expecting that the proper AV cables would be there. Our festival expressly stated that all movies must be on Blu-ray DVDs, finalized and ready to go. We asked for two copies to makes sure there weren't problems. And these filmmakers show up five minutes before showtime, go up to a volunteer who is handing out programs, and expect that their weirdly formatted, last minute update will be played no problem.

In my experience, smaller festivals tend to attract less experienced filmmakers, and that sounds like the case here. Get your stuff together early and there won't be problems.


It's great that Indiewire investigates these things as there really are so many sharks in the festival, sales and distribution business and it's very hard for a beginning filmmaker to make sense of it all. We attended more than 20 film festivals with our first film and while some where actually pretty nice, there was also the scammers who asked for contributions to screen the films or in one case, thousands of dollars for hosting a party while promising to 'guarantee' an award if we coughed up the money… Withoutabox should be more strict with screening the information festivals post, they even discontinued the discussion board about experiences at different festivals. The worst festival was probably the "7th Annual Women's International Film & Arts Festival" in Miami, where we flew all the way from Europe to have President/Founder Yvonne McCormack-Lyons change our screening time and venue an hour before the screening (to an earlier time!), not informing anyone of our group about this, and leaving ticket holders wandering at the outdoors venue. 15-20 friends who purchased tickets through Eventbrite never got their money back from the festival either, nor did they answer our e-mails anymore when we were asking for refunds for our friends who paid 15USD tickets but missed the screening. The actual screening site was really far, the movie was halfway when we got there and it was a semi-open place where noise from the bar drowned all the film's sound. In addition they had lost or misplaced the BluRay and were showing the film from the submission DVD with a big 'Screening Purposes Only' text appearing at 5 minute intervals. We did try to complain about this to both WIthoutabox and Eventbrite, and of course the festival organizers, but never heard back from anyone.


File a report with them through Withoutabox. Thats what I did as I also had the same issues. This is the link WOB sent me to fill out about them. Give it a try so other filmmakers are not scammed by these amateurs at MFF. festfeedback(dot)questionpro(dot)com

J.C. Young

Is the repetitive postings really necessary or mature?


MFF is a disaster. They showed the wrong version of our film too, and when we made them stop to make the change (thankfully we brought a backup copy), they canceled our Q&A, which we had gone to great lengths to set up with our actors (yes, real, well known, doing us a favor travel required actors). Embarrassing, uprofessional, scam.

Gorman Bechard

A much better version of this article is the film "Official Rejection" which every indie filmmaker should be forced to watch. It was certainly representative of my life on the circuit in 2005 with my feature "You Are Alone." And watching it again recently before hitting the road with my Replacements documentary, I found it still completely relevant. Things haven't really changed much, except that we certainly have more tools to investigate whether or not a fest is worthy of our submission fee. That's it in a nutshell, do a little homework before spending the cash. Read interviews with festival programmers. Look at what a fest screened last year. Is your film a fit? And if it's a first year fest, skip it completely. Common sense.


I think I have the solution that will fix all this frustration. Just put your $40,000 epic feature on the internet : )

lily carver

Perhaps Indiewire could do some real journalism and expose the fraud of Without a Box rather than picking on low hanging fruit like this. WAB gets fees from naive filmmakers and with the support of many fests large and small tells them this is the way to submit when in fact most fests do not even watch WAB submissions. 90% of the film festival circuit is a scam anyway. It is about who you or your friends know . The overwhelming majority of films are preselecting by programmers. Save your submission fees and just rent a theater for a day, that way at least your friends can see the film in a theater.

Mario Corry

I was a protester that night and a cast member of the film. Never once was the protest disrespectful or disruptive . It was a peaceful protest asking the Festivals organizers why the film venue was changed and An explanation why it was taken out if the Festival. No answers were given and no one from the Festivals came out to explain them selves. When the police came to the peaceful protest they asked the Festival organizers to come out and explain themselves, they would not. Now I find out that this was done to other film makers, this Festivals should be dropped by WithoutAbox


This is an absolute hilarious article!! I love the guy who spent over 3k for marketing for a one day screening at a grade-z film festival. Talk about ego. He was asking to be ripped off. LOL!! And these people running out to get rush color corrections for festivals that aren't attend by the press or industry. Hilarious! I'm sorry, these people need to learn the back end of this business. If its a grade-z film fest, who cares if any one shows up, just use the festival to get you press. If the festival can't get you press, then move on. Or use the festival as a screening that shows the film played to a real audience. Remember, making movies is about illusion, use that illusion when it comes to marketing and screening your film.


First world problems. Do your research before submitting.

Truth Though

Full disclosure the writer of this article – JASON GUERRASIO is the Web Editor @TribecaFilmIns, truth be told TriBeCa festival and shorts is kinda jumped the shark, but they also have a disgusting stranglehold on festivals in NYC, with their ambivalent submission process and douchey demand for premiere status.

I can't think of any major independent festival in New York, with sponors, annual seasoned staff and solid locations other than Lower East Side (L.E.S.) Film Festival.

Peter Rinaldi

BTW — Not to be confused with the "International Film Festival Manhattan" which is a GREAT small festival that rents the Quad in the fall for it's festival. We had our film there in 2011, and they really took care of us!

Ren H

Alright, so when a film is removed from the festival without cause? Then what do you call that?! When the Organizer changes venues numerous times to various filmmakers that are not able to attend or move their audience? What do you call that?
Projection equipment always not operating, year after year, after year….

Peter Rinaldi

What does this have to do with the Quad? That theater is rented (or 'fake' rented) by these scam festivals. But it is not to blame for their actions. Am I wrong? It's pretty crappy to have a picture of the Quad for this article in my opinion.

tad swann

The headline for this article is highly misleading. While the MFF may be disorganized and may not be of any service to anyone, nothing in this article suggests it's a "scam." There's nothing to support the idea suggested by the headline that the organizers of the festival are actively trying to bilk filmmakers out of their money. (In fact, you write that the festival shares the box office with the filmmakers.) They are not con artists; they simply don't know what they are doing.

Ren Humphrey

NO Way! It was a peaceful protest, no physical contact. Filmmakers and guest were able to get in and out of the venue with ease. No vulgar language, and hate comments during the events. From the amount of claims on Manhattan Film Festival, Nelson is doing what he can to look good. He has nothing to defend these claims.
As a Filmmaker and Producer of various films, I have never experience anything like this in my career as an artist. This is not acceptable in the entertainment industry, and very unprofessional for the founder, and crew of MFF. Nelson is fabricating the outcome of the protest, because he did avoid Solvan Naim and his lawyer on handling the whole situation. The confusion with the venue change, not responding to phone calls, emails, or text messages is very unprofessional. Not only avoiding Naim, but the other filmmakers as well.
By removing the film "Full Circle" from the festival, Nelson and his partner have violated the Terms and Agreement on Withoutabox site.

Filmmakers will not tolerate behavior like this from anyone that tries to take advantage of artist. I suggest to future filmmakers that they submit with caution. Do your research and submit to fest that have a sponsorship.

Bill Murray

Filmmakers, seriously…

1) "0" Sponsors means not legit. Smarten up.

2) Google the organizers. Phillip Nelson is not shit in the film industry. He has no record of being anything. He isn't going to be anything. Thus, don't expect anything from him. Especially when he says about the MFF "The program has already proven to be a huge success and could change what a film festival means to a filmmaker." Really? Have you heard of Cannes, Locarno or Sundance you dipsh*t?

3) Look at the website, is it flimsy, spotty and disorganized? OK, well if they can't handle basic HTML, they can't handle projecting video or organizing a film festival in New York City?

4) Anything that has a submission length of 6 months (MFF Nov. to April) is not legit. You can't accept films for 6 months a year and possibly be serious about weighing content.

5) We are talking about the entertainment industry? Scumbags will be everywhere. 0.05% of people involved gain success or recognition. Smarten up. No one short film or no one film festival breeds instant fame or success. Stephen Speilberg can't even green light his own work at his own film company, ok? Don't be ANGRY when a sniveling little poop face like this scams a couple thousand people for $40 a piece. He's been doing it for 7, going on 8 years.


$1,000 limo ride? Fishy claim and totally unbelievable.

Frank Kelly

I had a similar experience in LA in 2006 at the Moondance film festival. It was our first short film and our first festival, our world premiere! And we were going to attend, all the way from Ireland. On paper it looked good, they called themselves the American Cannes, that should have been the first warning. They had a list of famous industry people who were attending, very enticing and on the plain on the way over I was trying figure out how I would approached Jeff Bridges, or how I might slip Harvey Winstien my film.

We arrived, the festival was inside a gate studio near Hollywood, the name escapes me, of course, we left our passports at our residents, they wouldn't let us in without ID, so we made the 2 hour journey back to out friends house to get them. Then back again. So all the way form Ireland and a double trip from the Valley to Hollywood and we finally arrived. We were excited, nervous, the American Cannes! All these peop… a small gathering of about 15 people near the caffeteria standing under a garden canopy. Uh oh, but OK… on we went.

Excitedly approached the table. Told them how we were, where we'd come from… hardly impressed to say the least. We got a discount book for screenings and that was it. I sought out the programmer, who I'd been in touch with, she was on the stares, texting. I said "Hi, I made it!" She held her hand up to stop me, "Just really busy at the moment," that was probably the last words she spoke to me. I realised we'd made a mistake.

But we still had our screening to come, and some events to go to. So, we were here, might as well jump in. At the welcome party we arrived on time at a club on Hollywood Blvd. I thought, OK, here we go, red carpet, photographers, Celebrities… WRONG! Not only that, but the doorman had no idea what I was talking about. Didn't know there was a festival party. He called up stairs, and after some confusion, we got in, to a small room, curtained off from the rest of the bar area were they served a few cut up pizzas and finger food.

We got talking to an animator who laughed out load when he heard we'd come all the way form Ireland for this, then apologised, but we understood.

Then came the night of our screening. There was actually a good crowd outside and a bit of a buzz. Finally, here it was, three years, €25,000 of our own money and here we were, at our premiere. I was nervous, excited, maybe even finally enjoying myself. The doors opened and everyone poured in. They were going for our theatre, this was great! A full house! Then the programmer stopped me, now I remember, she did say something else to me "Your film has been moved…" not far, just to a smaller theatre, but an empty on nonetheless.

We sat, in the dark, my co-director and me, alone. Then the film came on, still no one came. The film played. Dark, grainy, no sign of the two and a half thousand euro colour grade we'd just paid for… they were playing the wrong version. So instead of changing the tape, the projectionist brought up the colour correct menu on the theatre screen and start adjusting it, while the our world premiere was playing out. He did that twice.

So there we were, in an empty theatre, having just paid about €2000 between us to sit and watch an unfinished version of our film with a colour menu in front of it. I felt sick.

We left, shell shocked. I was asked if we were going to the awards, I said, "Sure" without really thinking about it, then I was told I would have to pay for a ticket… I said no, and we didn't go back to the festival. We spent the rest of our time in LA watching Simpsons boxset in my friends house and drinking beer to drown out sorrows! Nightmare!

It was the worst experience at a festival I've had in ten years of making films. The entire festival was a shambles, zero communication, unfriendly, unhelpful, it was a very expensive lesson. And I never got to meet Jeff Bridges, or anyone else for that matter!

Christopher Bell

Yikes. My short played this festival in 2012… had the same issue that Anderson had in 2013.

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Actually, without a PR agent most film festivals are scams

Dan McGinley

Beware the “Lift-Off” festival network. I submitted our film to the Hong-Kong Lift-Off F.F., never heard back, did some digging, found-out it was sent to Korea and archived, which means it could be still alive, but who the hell knows. That was money wasted, and what happens to my film? Is it being viewed and copied all over Korea? I sent the film to the NY F.F., and they outright lost it. Only Cannes accounted for it, and we nearly won the Palm d’or against tough competition. Beware these festivals, and research the hell out of them. Good luck.

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