Menu Dismantling the illustrious world of scam film festivals with Cesar Majorana
Dismantling the illustrious world of scam film festivals with Cesar Majorana

Dismantling the illustrious world of scam film festivals with Cesar Majorana

Written by Bram Megens | Photo by EYE Filmmuseum/VPRO

Misusing the filmmaker’s dream in order to cash in by organizing a non-existent festival: it happens on large scale in the film industry. Many professionals know of this, but very little people dare to speak out about it.

Go Short has none of it. During workshops, like the Gelderland Film Meeting, this subject is regularly being dealt with. Long time, we felt we were alone in our fight against scam festivals. Luckily, we now find ourselves strengthened by Dutch film journalist Cesar Majorana (VPRO). In his three part podcast series Op de vijfde rij, produced in cooperation with EYE Filmmuseum, he dismantles the suspicious film festivals who make money at the expense of filmmakers. In his thrilling crime-reporter-style, he hangs on with claws and teeth and brings the systematic problem to a broader public. We spoke to him about his investigation.

How did you find out about these film festivals?

“A couple of years ago I went to Cannes for Dutch broadcaster VPRO. When I received the invitation and looked up the festival online, I found a second film festival in Cannes, occurring at around the same time the real film festival took place. At first, I was confused and didn’t know which of the two I should attend. I brought it up during a meeting with a group of filmmakers and they told me that is was most likely a scam festival. My editor-in-chief was longing to make a podcast episode about this already – and that’s how it came to be.”

Where do all these film festivals come from all of a sudden?

“Most of these film festivals come from Filmfreeway. This is a platform where hundreds of suspicious film festivals are being generated. Filmmakers are asked to pay hundreds of dollars for submission fees and if they win, they’ll receive a prize which is in reality pointless. You simply receive a PDF-file with a laurel they can use for the distribution for their film.”

“The poignant part is that many filmmakers have no idea they’re being lied to. They live in Brooklyn, New York, for example, and send in their film for Amsterdam International Film Festival, for instance. This remote, it’s not strange to believe this is a legitimate festival. But it doesn’t take place. At all. Films from filmmakers aren’t being watched by a professional jury and completely random, one of the winners get sent a prize.”

“It’s a nasty business. As a festival, you misuse the filmmaker’s dream. The reputation of our entire industry is on the line. The frustrating thing is that it’s already claimed such a big part in the industry: many people in the film industry know about it, but there’s still no conversation about it.”

How should you protect yourself as a filmmaker? What are the red flags?

“When a festival has too many prizes and categories, you should be wary. The same goes for the symbol; something like a film reel or a cliché symbol of that country – like the Amsterdam International Film Festival using a typical Dutch windmill. As well as synopsis or reviews of the films that were selected that show very little knowledge of film in general and spelling mistakes are signs of a scam festival.”

“If you want to be completely sure, protect yourself by quite simply just calling the embassy of the country where the festival takes place and ask if the festival is legit or not. This distance between maker and festival is often one of the ways why these kinds of festivals are able to continue to persist.”

What should Filmfreeway do?

“Filmfreeway should be more pro-active in combatting scams and cons. Right now, they have too much power as a platform. They own a monopoly and there are no clear indications that they’re willing to be giving that up, so there should be fair competition of this market – but that’s of course easier said than done. On top of that, they’re out impossible to reach. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

In your podcast, you tell that there are also filmmakers who intentionally make use of the scams on this flawed platform, in order to put as many laurels as possible on their films, as a hallmark for their work. What does this tell us about the film industry in general?

“That the film industry is overheated. Because of the standstill caused by covid, many short films were made with very little budget – of which their makers are all looking for an audience. There are too many of them and there are too many films being made, which is why many film festivals are overloaded with submissions. That’s a hard truth and I don’t wish to discourage filmmakers to create films and send their films to festivals, but this indirect result of the pandemic has to be addressed.”

“Something else that strikes me, is the incredible growth of the amount of film festivals. When the pandemic broke out, I first thought a lot of film festivals would disappear or get canceled. I was flabbergasted. In hindsight it’s explicable, because the growth mainly came from these kind of suspicious festivals.”

You sent in your podcast to the Amsterdam International Film Festival and didn’t get the prize. Have you been able to process this loss yet?

“Even though yes indeed I didn’t win the prize, I framed it and put it on the wall in my room. The real prize being of course the many listeners of our podcast and the fact that people are finally starting the conversation about this.”

Go Short in this matter

Go Short is aware of the suspicious practices on Flimfreeway and isn’t on this platform for this very reason. We’d advise makers to stay away from Filmfreeway and to send in films directly to the filmfestival(s) you wish to send it to. For more tips on how to get your film selected, read our article 7 tips to get your film selected for a festival, in which our programmers Jip and Mathieu give you an insight of how programmers in general select their films.

Listen to the podcast

If you wish to know everything about scam festivals and Cesar’s investigation, we’d recommend you to listen the series ‘…in de wereld van scamfestivals’ of Op de vijfde rij. Listen to the first episode down here. Be noted: the language spoken is (mainly) Dutch.


Wish to receive our monthly Industry Update with all kinds of articles with insights of the film industry and our own (industry) activities? Sign up now by clicking the button below.