I almost got scammed.
It always starts innocently enough. A well meaning film producer looking to distribute his (or her) film out to the wider world.
So, I did what any short filmmaker does. I started looking at local and international film festivals.
Now, there are some wonderful film festivals out there, with big audiences, prizes, and qualification for major honours, like the Independent Spirit Awards or the Oscars.
However, like all arenas where there are artists, trying to be heard above the din, there are those who are willing to take advantage of the filmmakers who have become desperate. Thankfully I'm not at this stage...yet.
The biggest hook the would-be scammers use is the promise of "exposure".
Filmmakers reading this will laugh, because that is often the carrot people try and use to make you provide your services for free. "Work on our production, and it will be great for YOUR career. You'll get great exposure!"
Sometimes it's true. More often it's not. But I digress.
I was up to my ears in film festival guides and spreadsheets, planning the festivals I would enter 'The Good Neighbour' into. Do the work, I thought.
In the midst of this organised chaos, I received an email for 'The Cannes Independent Film Festival'.
The website looks convincing enough. It even receives film entries through WithoutaBox, which has become a pseudo sign for reliability.
Perhaps I was tired, or vulnerable, or both, but I was ready to enter. Luckily though, something didn't feel right. The main page read:
The mission of the Cannes Independent Film Festival is to provide truly independent films an opportunity to be screened in Cannes during the world's most prestigious film gathering and the biggest International Film Market.
Noble. It goes on to say that:
Being selected as a part of CIFF entitles you to:
- Screen your film at great venues in Cannes
- Sell your film to the world's biggest gathering of film buyers
- Network with and promote new projects to the entire film industry
Sounds great! But then the same page says:
THE CANNES INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL IS AN ORGANISATION TOTALLY INDEPENDENT AND DIFFERENT FROM THE FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DU FILM (AKA THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL) .
SO, you will be screened during the world's biggest film gathering, that they are in no way associated with?
Alarm bells were ringing. I wanted more detail, but the more I searched the less I found. It seemed that all the press around the Cannes Independent Film Festival was coming from...The Cannes Independent Film Festival.
Finally, I found a single blog. It has since been removed, unfortunately. I do wonder what happened to the poor chap who wrote it.
To paraphrase, this blogger stated that the Cannes Independent Film Festival was misleading filmmakers into thinking they were going to get 'exposure' by being in a film festival in Cannes during the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. According to this filmmaker, who had first hand knowledge, nothing could be further from the truth. Film industry representatives attending the Cannes International Film Festival were, of course, distracted by a small event called Cannes International Film Festival.
What could someone possibly gain by intentionally or unintentionally misleading filmmakers, you ask?
Simple, the 45 Pound ($AU70 approx) entry fee.
45 Pounds multiplied by the number of desperate filmmakers out there (e.g. one of the big 10 film festivals in the US got short film 5000 entries this year) equals a lot of money. Annually.
Personally, I got my final confirmation when I checked their FAQ's.
Q. So, are you guys Slamdancing the Cannes Film Festival?
A. Some participants have made that analogy.
For the uninitiated, The SUNDANCE Film Festival is the biggest independent film festival in the USA, held in Utah every year. As a response to supposed elitism in the Sundance Film Festival, a group of filmmakers started the SLAMDANCE film festival in 1995, running at the same time as Sundance, also in Utah. Slamdance, however, made very clear restrictions on the films they would accept, to ensure they were "truly" independent films. For example. the budget for feature films in Slamdance have to be under $1M, to show they are REALLY an independent film, not a big budget film pretending to be "Indy". The Slamdance Film Festival has been the launching pad of the careers of Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan and many others.
From my perspective, the FAQ question was just another example of the Cannes Independent Film Festival trying to draw a link between themselves and an established, and most importantly trusted, film festival.
And the more I looked, the more I found other festivals that looked suspect. Unsurprisingly, these festivals were all based in cities where there were existing prestigious festivals. Target desperation and look like you are affiliated with established and prestigious festivals; that's the play.
Others, including Interpol, have caught on. The most written about of these alleged Film Festival scams are: The San Francisco Short Film Festival (as opposed to the prestigious San Francisco International Film Festival); the New York Film and Video Festival (as opposed to the famous Tribeca Film Festival, New York) and the Alaska International Film Festival (as opposed to the prestigious Anchorage Film Festival in Alaska), to name just a few.
There are too many film festivals in the world today. Filmmakers need to be really sure about why they are entering a particular festival, and do their homework before they outlay the entry fee.
As for the festivals I named and shamed above, have I been too harsh? Are these simply new festivals trying to edge their way into the crowded festival circuit and make a dent in the established players?
It's not impossible.
But I'm not convinced.
New York Film and Video Festival
Fake festivals warning by interpol
Group of Scam Festivals using names similar to established festivals
Scam Alaskan Festival
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