Avoiding fake film festivals
There are now a huge number and variety of film festivals across the globe. With more setting up each day. Unfortunately not all of them are legitimate. Some are fake festivals designed to obtain your entry fee money fraudulently. Others are pseudo festivals, promising much and delivering very little for your time and money. Here we provide some tools for identifying these dubious festivals, so you can try to avoid them.
There are numerous examples of filmmakers being duped into submitting their film at high cost to festivals that either don’t exist, or only exist in a nominal and un-useful way. It’s not just happening overseas either. Right here in New Zealand, the Auckland International Film Festival has been called out as a pseudo film festival.
TIP: Beware blindly using submission platforms. Thousands of film festivals are listed on submission platforms like Film Freeway, Withoutabox, Festhome, Short Film Depot, Reelport, Click for Festivals, Film Festival Life, etc. The biggest players Film Freeway and Withoutabox don’t screen the festivals listed on their sites, so no protection is offered there from fraudsters trying to take advantage of filmmakers.
Identifying fake & pseudo film festivals
Fake film festivals are fraudulent festivals that do not exist. They take entry fees, and do not screen films publicly.
Pseudo film festivals do not correspond to the classic idea and concept for a proper film festival. They maintain several characteristics of false festivals, but they are often disguised by taking the form of an important festival. Their objective is to take your submission fees and maybe further charge participants and winners to take part in their events.
Key things to look out for:
- Confusing name similar to a real festival. Most countries have one or more established film festival named after their location (Toronto, Cannes, Berlinale, Venice, Tribeca). To imply prestige and create confusion psuedo film festivals name themselves something very similar. For example, the Alaska International Film Festival (a known fraudulent film festival) is often confused with the legitimate Anchorage International Film Festival.
- It’s administered from overseas. Most film festivals are run locally, so a base of operations in a different country is a red flag. Especially if they don’t attend the event themselves.
- No public screenings. Film festivals screen films. That is the whole point. Awards events that do not have public screenings are not film festivals. If a festival is listed itself as an ‘awards only’ or state “Only the winning films are screened publicly” this is a massive red flag. AVOID. Likewise festivals that only take place online.
- It’s part of a chain. If a film festival is run by the same organisers around the world it is likely to be a money making scam.
- Contact information provided is minimal. It is incredibly suspicious if the website for the festival doesn’t have an easy to find page stating the name and contact details of at least one key team member who holds an official title.
- High entry fees. It’s understandable if the submission fee for a big film festival is on the high side. However, an obscure film festival charging a high price tag is a strong indicator of a scam. There a number of film festivals that require no entry fee at all and even top festivals like Sundance don’t charge $100+.
- Large number of awards. Legitimate film festivals have a limited set of awards. Think about it. If there are numerous awards listed in random indistinct categories what is the value in winning that award?
- Minimal information about the selected films. There should be more information than a vague blurb in poor English.
- No verified winners list. If a fraudulent film festival is trying to establish a false history they might publish a list of fake films that have won awards in the previous years. Any film that was good enough to win an award will have an online presence as proof of its existence. A Facebook page, website, credits listed on IMDB or at least a trailer on Youtube or Vimeo.
- Vague selection and judging information. Lack of details about the selection process and who is on the judging panel is suspicious.
- Prizes are limited to a certificate. A real awards ceremony should present actual prizes to award winners.
- Filmmakers have to pay for their own trophies. You haven’t really won an award if you have to buy it. Neither should you have to pay to attend an awards event.
- No printed festival programme brochure/catalogue. A lack of printed screening schedule or this being only available online is suspicious. Why don’t they need this to promote their screenings to the public?
- Filmmakers have to pay for their own travel expenses. Not every festival can afford to pay a filmmakers travel expenses, but most of the legitimate ones can at least help with some accommodation or other travel expenses.
- Website and social media accounts out of date. A legitimate film festival will have members of staff manning their website and social media.
- No sponsors. Not every film festival is fortunate enough to have high profile sponsors, but most should have relationships with legitimate businesses and film industry organisations that you know of or can find. Pay attention to the details as some fraudulent festivals will list fake sponsors.
- Unfeasibly long Call for Entries window. Most film festivals have their Call for Entries open for 3-7 months, ending a couple of months before the festival begins. This time frame gives the programming team time to view and deliberate which films will be selected and plan the promotion of the events. Operating with an open call all year can be a sign of festivals designed to collect as many submission fees as possible.
- Accepting all films that pay a submission fee. If everyone who pays a submission fee is automatically accepted into a festival then their film isn’t really selected.
EXAMPLE: The Short Film Corner at Cannes is a market not a film festival, and is not part of the Cannes Film Festival despite taking place at the same time. This is a networking opportunity at best. You have to pay to take part in it and will get two accredited passes to enter the festival proper for the duration of the Short Film Corner. Acceptance to this film market is not based on artistic merit. As long as you submit early, pay the fee and upload a functioning file you will be accepted, along with more than 2,000 other films. If you want to submit your short film to the real Cannes make sure you submit to the Cannes Court Métrage Short Film Competition.
While one or two of these factors being present in a film festival doesn’t automatically make it a pseudo festival. It is the combination of multiple suspicious policies and a general lack of transparency that makes a film festival likely to be dubious and best avoided.
The sheer magnitude of fake and pseudo film festivals out there evidently meet a demand from filmmakers. These range from the pleasure of posing like a star on a red carpet, to the hope of gaining some attention and career opportunities from using laurels that convey an award win (or bought in some cases) and achieving the breakthrough somewhere else. But this is a miscalculation. With the current inflationary number of dubious awards out there, professionals in the industry – be they buyers, producers and even savvy moviegoers – have long become unimpressed by ‘official selection’ or ‘winner’ laurels that they haven’t heard of. Participating in these festivals also serves to verify the festival’s claims that they are legitimate. They send you laurels so that you can put them on your website, posters and social media, which other filmmakers see, assume the festival to be legitimate and consequently enter their own film. Don’t help propagate these deceptive pretenders and feed into their prevalence! Support other filmmakers by avoiding them.
Identifying real film festivals
If that’s all rather depressing, don’t despair. There are loads of real film festivals out there with dedicated humans who want to help you and your film to succeed.
Here are some other key identifiers of real film festivals:
- Recommendations and positive reviews from filmmakers who have attended the festival
- Reputation of the films that have previously screened or won awards
- Extensive and detailed information offered on the website
- Free entry (or minimal entry fees)
- High profile sponsors
- Transparency who is involved
- Locally based office
- Printed programme brochure/catalogue
- Regularly updated website and social media accounts
- Screening fees are offered or the prospect of winning cash prizes
- Travel costs are provided, or partially covered
Applying to film festivals can be a time consuming and expensive process. It’s important to make sure to thoroughly research any film festivals you are unfamiliar with before submiting a film to them.