This post was inspired by an ordeal with Zero Film Festival, for which my film Bob was selected but later withdrawn by myself due to the festival’s gross incompetence. They didn’t contact me after my selection, and I was only able to get hold of them a month later – less than two weeks before the event was stated as taking place – after pursuing a number of avenues and wasting a great deal of time and effort. At one point, even coming close to calling the police, suspecting I could have been conned. When I finally received a reply from the organiser – after tracking down his personal email by contacting a venue where the festival previously took place – it was childish and aggressive, berating me for suggesting there was anything wrong with the festival’s conduct and belittling my experience. It turned out the festival wasn’t even taking place on the date they’d given, and they hadn’t even organised a venue. Their excuse for not informing filmmakers? They were busy with other things and didn’t have the staff. More an admission of their inability than an excuse, although it wasn’t presented that way. Also, I was criticised for contacting one of the listed organisers and asking for help. It turned out they hadn’t worked for the festival for seven years – the fact this info hadn’t been updated providing more evidence of inefficiency – but they were happy to contact the current organiser and ask him to get in touch. For some reason, he found my actions inappropriate; perhaps because they drew attention to his organisation’s ineptitude. I asked him for a refund and was told one would be provided if I sent my PayPal details. I sent my email address, explaining that’s all you need, but heard nothing and received no refund. Needless to say, they pass none of the criteria listed here for spotting a good festival.
1. Use FilmFreeway, not Withoutabox. It’s far easier to setup, upload and navigate, the festivals are generally far cheaper (Withoutabox take a big cut), and Withoutabox are useless if you have an issue with a festival; they take ages to get back and basically tell you it’s not their responsibility and to deal with it yourself. You would have thought they’d just be able to contact the festival in question, right? Nope.
2. Check the festival’s contact info works before submitting. Call, email: make sure they’re quick to reply, polite and attentive. You don’t want to submit to a festival then find out they’re impossible to contact (believe me!).
3. Check the festival’s reviews. Do they have good ratings and reviews? Have they even turned the review option on? If they haven’t, they’ve likely done this for a reason. Note, Withoutabox don’t have a review option. Another reason to be wary of them.
4. When did the festival last take place? If a festival has been regularly taking place for a number of years, they’re likely a winner. If they’re taking place erratically every few years, they’re likely disorganised or failing to generate submitters due to their incompetence.
5. Look for further evidence that the festival is professionally run. A regularly updated website, a Facebook page with plenty of activity (again, make sure these are easy to contact), and videos of their most recent event; search for past ones too, but if that’s all they have, there could be a reason.
6. Lastly, think carefully and make sure the festival is appropriate for your film. Does your film fit the festival’s criteria/objective/rules/terms? Is it within your price range? A lot of festivals might pass the £20 mark, but you can find plenty for under a tenner if you search hard enough. If a festival seems overly expensive, check to see if the regular deadline has passed. Many festivals have earlybird deadlines that are far cheaper. So plan ahead and get your film in early!