Nine personal and shocking experiences that reflect the terrible underbelly of SOME film festivals

Not all festivals are the same. I have been to around 100 now in my years as a filmmaker and have experienced the Good, The Bad and the Truly Dreadful. The video above is from the Swansea Bay Film festival, and while my experiences have never been quite that bad, if it had happened to me, honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Here are a list of some of the extraordinary things that I have experienced personally… (I have heard worse stories, but these all happened to me so I can assure you they are not film folklore or myth). These experiences largely relate to Gone Fishing – in all instances I had paid to submit, paid to ship materials and paid to attend (and I added a final story just now, so it’s ten!).

Here we go…

  • 1,000 people and celebs attend the stunning gala opening, then five people attend the actual screening. This happened to me when I had flown across the world for the experience. Worse still, I have been a festival where there was no opening party and still only five people turned up to the screening!
  • On a similar note, I won the audience award at one festival because I turned up with five friends. The Saturday night screening was a supposed highlight of the festival. There were seven people in the audience. Winning was a slam dunk for my film as I had the audience stacked in my favour (that was five votes, plus me, making it six). Interestingly none of the organisers showed their faces.
  • ‘We decided to show your DVD instead of the 35mm print, but don’t worry, no-one will notice, it looks the same to me.’ This was said to my face just minutes before a very important screenings.
  • ‘I know you have flown across the world for the gala opening of the festival, here’s your ticket for the party… that’s $50 please…’ Yes, you get there and they charge you to attend YOUR party and watch YOUR film.
  • ‘Your film is so amazing, it would beat all the other films so we just couldn’t programme it or put it in the competition – our festival is much more underground, I am sure you understand? And thanks for the entrance fee you paid’.
  • So the prize was ‘A Complete Final Cut Pro Editing System…’ When the prize arrived, it was a Final Draft voucher for a download. Final Draft is awesome but it’s not the same as a shiny Mac system! When queried they said ‘Yes, sorry, we thought they were the same… silly us!’ The entrance fee to that one was $85 and I wonder how many other filmmakers thought they were in the running for a copy of FCP and a MacBook Pro?
  • ‘Congratulations you won! But we won’t send you your award as you didn’t attend’. Another variant is ‘Congratulations, you won! Your trophy costs $250, it’s made by the same people who make the Oscars! Do you want to buy one? Maybe two?’
  • ‘So if you come, you will win, but if you don’t come, you won’t win. We need pictures of the winners with the awards and the celebrities. I am sure you understand? And thank you for your submission fee too’.
  • Them: ‘We’d like you to come and talk at our festival…’ ME: ‘You do know I submitted and you rejected my film…’ THEM: ‘Oh really, let me check…’ One hour later… THEM ‘There was a clerical error, you have been accepted… can you come and speak then?’
  • ‘Mr Jones, please attend the Iranian Embassy tomorrow at 3pm…’ GULP! Actually this was a really nice one, just bizarre. I had won an Award at a major Iranian festival and my trophy had been delivered by diplomatic bag to the embassy, along with five pieces of gold. Yep, five gold coins. Love the Iranians!

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
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3 Responses to Nine personal and shocking experiences that reflect the terrible underbelly of SOME film festivals

  1. Mark Renshaw September 2, 2020 at 3:31 pm #

    Fantastic blog and I’ve experienced some of the above. A couple of extras to add:

    I was selected for a film festival which promised to pay all screened films an agreed percentage of the profits. After the festival, the company ran off with all the money and I discovered this London based event was organised by one guy in Los Angeles who was now MIA.

    A big festival in New Jersey where the producer turned up unannounced as his schedule suddenly became free and found our film being screened in an empty classroom.

    I won an award at a festival in LA last year and they sent me the trophy, didn’t charge me for the trophy (and it is a nice trophy) but I ended up being charged over $100 in VAT. I appealed against the charge and managed to get a percentage of it back but they said because the festival had labelled the package wrong I still had to pay a hefty fee.

  2. Chris Jones September 2, 2020 at 3:37 pm #

    Those are all very relevant additions. Here is the opoosing article about the BEST expoeriences I have had.

  3. Adam Nelson September 2, 2020 at 4:35 pm #

    Was accepted into a local film festival, selling itself as a highbrow event. Received a phone call asking if I would attend with some cast and crew. I agreed since it was local enough to travel without any serious finacial or time burden. Promptly received an invoice for £750 for three festival tickets to cover all screenings and the gala dinner.

    Needless to say, we didn’t attend.

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