Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Jason Guerrasio
January 17, 2013 10:00 AM
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An IW Investigation: The Dark Underbelly of the Festival Circuit, Part 2

Las Vegas venture capitalist Monty Lapica says he purchased from Weisner and his associates a group of festivals, including the Honolulu Film Awards, Mountain Film Festival, Canada International Film Festival and Nevada Film Festival. Lapica, a Las Vegas native, also is the director of the 2005 drama “Self-Medicated” and founder of the Las Vegas Film Festival.

“From an investment point of view, the film festival business made sense because I had a fairly thorough understanding of how film festivals operate as a result of my experience with ‘Self-Medicated,’ and I felt I understood the business model,” Lapica says in an e-mail. He also notes that filmmakers could attend the awards without paying for a meal (though that option is not stated in the e-mails that filmmakers receive).

Recently, Lapica sold back the Honolulu and Mountain properties to Weisner, and in February 2012 he sold the Las Vegas Film Festival. Lapica states that he is now focusing more on his tech-based investments, though he remains the owner of the Nevada Film Festival and Canada International Film Festival, which both screen films to the public.

Lapica adds that when he owned the Honolulu and Mountain festivals, he never received complaints from filmmakers about being misled and he does not regret the investment. “However, after several years of experimenting with the business model, and despite some very memorable and enjoyable festival experiences, we do not view this particular investment as one that meets our current performance criteria,” he concludes.

Along with the Honolulu Film Awards and Mountain Film Festival, Weisner and his group also currently own the Yosemite Film Festival. Though he replied to an initial e-mail by encouraging this reporter to look at the Honolulu Film Awards’ website and Facebook page to learn more about it, he never responded to questions about his involvement in the festivals or about selling festivals in 2008.

For the most part, the filmmakers interviewed for this story who attended the awards dinners enjoyed them (though some admit that they thought they had submitted to film festivals). Numerous people described the events as a working vacation and consider the experience just another expensive stop on the festival circuit. Some also feel they need to submit to these kinds of competitions because they sense that distributors want films that have a website full of festival laurels.

However, Rooftop Films program director Dan Nuxoll — who along with filmmaker Martha Shane is currently making a documentary about alleged film festival con artist Marie Jocelyne — says that filmmakers must change their thinking when it comes to submitting to festivals.

“Some filmmakers think that it substantially improves their reputation if they can list an acceptance of an award from any festival, but in reality this is rarely the case,” Nuxoll says. “Not many people in the industry will be impressed to hear that a filmmaker has won an award from a festival they have never heard of.”

He adds: “Every time a filmmaker trumpets the award he has won from an ethically suspect festival, he furthers the online illusion that this festival is legitimate. This makes it easier for such organizations to maintain a veneer of respectability and thereby further exploit an already vulnerable population.”

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  • Jerry Hoffman | August 2, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    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.

  • Truthisgravey | September 18, 2013 12:07 PM

    Don't trust NYCIFF and Roberto Rizzo. Read this article, freepressreleases.com/filmmakers-claim-exploited-scammed-nyciff-film-festival/463778

    I saw that he was an extra on the Smurfs movie. I suspect he has no clout and a want to be. Therefore, he chose to start a film festival to make money. I guess Woody Allen needs to add that, those that can't, teach, well, now it is those that can't, start their own festival.

  • Carly | July 31, 2013 1:40 AMReply

    “Every time a filmmaker trumpets the award he has won from an ethically suspect festival, he furthers the online illusion that this festival is legitimate. This makes it easier for such organizations to maintain a veneer of respectability and thereby further exploit an already vulnerable population.”

    This comment coming from Rooftop Films, an organization that has consistently rejected many of my short films. Many of the fests you attack in your articles have shown my work, why should I listen to you? IndieWire, you're goons!

  • Shawn W | February 18, 2013 3:00 PMReply

    Yawn.... Who cares?

  • Jonas Walker | January 25, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    Personally I don't see why this bothers anyone. What's the big deal? They're offering filmmakers a chance to get their films out there, meet some other filmmakers, and have fun. Not everybody is going to get accepted to Sundance, after all. If people don't like the festivals nobody is pointing a gun to their heads to participate. And the article evens says that the festivals do everything they advertise they do. I don't see how this is news. The film snobs need to lighten up some. If you're too good for small festivals like this then I guess we'll see you at the Oscars.

  • Michael g. | January 22, 2013 12:37 PMReply

    Excellent article that only brushes the surface of the scams out there. It's misrepresentation that is at the heart of this. Organizations which call themselves film festivals and don't show films to the public, simply exist to take money from credulous filmmakers. Sure filmmakers might enjoy the dinner and hanging out with other filmmakers - that's mostly a circle jerk (join a local legit film society and network that way instead). Since these awards are frequently not based on merit, but primarily on the fact that you pony up the fee, it gives the filmmaker a false sense of their own abilities. There are plenty of other second and third tier film fests which are legit, so if the only way you can get into a festival or to earn an award is to purchase access, you might think about a different career.

  • Jazzy J. | January 22, 2013 12:10 PMReply

    Too many movies anyways. Making a good film includes accounting formally and aesthetically for your socio-historical time...you can't rely on past patterns to work for you. That's exactly what these scam artists are take advantage of: belief in awards, clout, right to celebrate your creative accomplishment (this is not a right), bad movies. Dan Nuxoll is absolutely correct about reputation construction. And blind submissions through Withoutabox is lazy. Withoutabox is lazy. It only exists because filmmakers are so abundant, they have become a reliable consumer base. Withoutabox does nothing to help filmmaking as an art.

    Jerzy J: Why do you want a statue? Make your own.
    Justin T: Are you kidding me? Go to Red Lobster and save the plane fare.

  • Jerzy J. | January 17, 2013 11:36 PMReply

    I guess the writer thinks we should only submit our films to the biggest festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Only problem is that no one gets in to those. At least no one I know. I kinda like having smaller fests like these to submit to. Gives me a better chance of bringing home a statue. 4 awards and counting....

  • Justin Tabuenke | January 17, 2013 11:10 PMReply

    So let me get this straight. These festivals charged filmmakers if they wanted to buy an extra trophy and/or attend a fancy dinner? Um, yeah, so does just about every festival I've ever attended with "Young Lacy". I guess these guys that are complaining would rather everything be free? Maybe Obama can nationalize all film festivals and then there will be no more entry fees and we can all win the Best Picture Award. LOL.

  • Yvette | April 12, 2013 12:32 AM

    I'm not sure some folks on here understand what this article is about.

    At a legitimate film festival you pay your submission fee to enter a film. The funds from submissions are normally used to offset costs to hold an actual physical film festival that can be attended and watch films.

    These scam film festivals take your submission fees, watch your films in the comfort of their home without an audience and because they are most-likely not anyone special....so the films are being judged by... you got it...no one special. Then Mr. No One Special picks a few favorites and mails out a cheap certificate to say "you've already won a million bucks!" Oops... that's another scam.

    So those of you on here thinking that others are telling you that only major festivals are all you have is not what they're saying.

    They are trying to protect you from being scammed out of your money.

    There are lots of great, affordable and legitimate small film festivals with amazing guest speakers and audiences to screen your film.

    If a festival is not screening your film publicly, that is not a film festival!