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Fake Film Festivals: Learn How To Spot a Scam

Last updated on September 14, 2023

So this is something I’ve been aware of for a while, but never really looked into with any real purpose.


Today I got my second email in two days from “Emmy”. “Emmy” is the “director of Star International Film Festival”. I know this, because “Emmy” told me so. No last name, just “Emmy”.

In her first email, “Emmy” indicated that she was “extremely interested” in my “works”. “Emmy” really has a way with broad, generic compliments. Then “Emmy” said she wanted to “invite’ me to become a participant in the nominations of my festival.”

Here, take a look.

Gosh. What a wonderful opportunity.

I did not respond.

Today, I found this in my inbox.

Emmy doesn’t fuck around. And this time she offered me a discount. She must REALLY like my “works”.

So I hit the link, took a look around, and wrote back. (it’s always frustrating when you reread something and spot a grammatical error or a word left out. curses.)

This is a thing. And there’s plenty of info out there about it. These festivals are scams. They seek you out, send you spammy emails, and hope that your need for validation is powerful enough that you’ll submit your film, at a cost, to their bullshit festival. Some of them have terrible in person events that attendees have chronicled in articles like this one. The author, Claire J. Harris, details a costly trip to a remote hotel outside of Nice, France. Her adventure is punctuated by empty screenings, overpriced meals, a creepy older dude, and the very clear realization that she’d been scammed.

Claire’s story isn’t unique. A very quick Google search pulls up a series of similar articles, stories of filmmakers looking to get their films seen, hoping for a little external validation, and taken for hundreds or thousands of dollars. But they do offer some tips for spotting these pieces of shit. I’ve collected a bunch and offer them here:

  1. Location. This can be a little tricky, since COVID, there are a few legitimate online film festivals. A quick search of any festival’s website should turn up some contact info and an address. “Emmy” doesn’t seem to have an address, but her festival does boast that a program of films “is planned to be showing in various cities of the world, which means that the winners will have a great chance and reason to visit many different countries and cities and present their work.” If this isn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is.
  2. Vague or lengthy submission timelines. These scammers want to keep you paying for submissions year round. Most legit festivals have very specific submission periods of around 3 to 6 months, that end months before the festival actually takes place. This one in particular has a novel approach to ongoing, rolling submission periods. It’s almost clever, if it wasn’t so stupid.
  3. Bullshit websites with vague terminology, limited background info, and no sponsors. Just go check out the Ottawa Animation Festival website. They’re supposed to look like that, with all kinds of indications of guests, sponsors, tons of photos, etc.
  4. Large number of Categories or Awards. Think about it. The more categories, the more films that can qualify, the more people they can string along. And guess what? If you want an actual trophy, they’ll ask you to pay for it.
  5. Name. Does it sound like a festival you’ve actually heard of? But it’s not exactly the same? Scam.
  6. Barriers to acceptance. Does every filmmaker who pays the fee get in? That’s not how festivals work!

There’s other suggestions, but they all amount to the same thing: do some research. Mine took about a minute and a half. I know it’s hard. You made a film. It might not be getting the massive accolades you’d hoped for. Heck, it might not even be getting the humble accolades you’d hoped for. But don’t let your insecurities and desire for validation expose you to this kind of predatory, bottom-feeding subset of human. They don’t care about you or your film. They are hustling you.

Take a deep breath and count to ten. Google search. Block.

That’s my advice.

Here are some links to the articles I came across. Super helpful.

According to this article, there’s been some attempts to regulate, and Film Freeway does their best to take down fraudulent festivals:

There’s even three episodes of a podcast that went full on true crime investigator mode. I’m only one episode in.

I haven’t heard back from Emmy.


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