How a Respected Film Festival Became a Scam (Allegedly) — The Oaxaca Film Fest Story

Sam Kench
20 min readDec 22, 2020

This is the story of a major film festival that began from humble origins with good intentions. A film festival that ran successfully for a decade, earning the respect and acclaim of independent filmmakers and screenwriters around the world. A film festival that was rocked by natural disaster, protested by the local population… and quietly turned into an alleged scheme to suck money out of creatives by preying upon their dreams, ambitions, and kind hearts. This is the story of the Oaxaca Film Festival.

As an independent filmmaker myself, I have a modicum of experience with film festivals. I have largely had positive experiences, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that film festival scams are real and they are prominent. It is an issue that doesn’t really get talked about. When submitting to a film festival, you need to do a fair bit of research to weed out the “fake” festivals and get to the real ones. These “fake” film fests pop up on the main submission platform of Film Freeway and formerly on WithoutABox before it was shut down. The easiest ways to detect a scam festival are to check the number of years the festival has been in operation (scam festivals don’t usually go beyond their “1st annual” iteration), look for an external website for the festival, look into the festival’s staff, and ensure that they have a venue.

Even with legitimate film festivals, the entry fees can be costly and they add up quickly. After submitting, the notification date to find out if you were accepted or how you placed in the competition is more often than not several months away, frequently taking the better part of a year.

With most “fake” festivals, they will accept your entry fee, then proceed to quietly sever all forms of communication and eventually disappear off of the Film Freeway platform altogether. Some of these “fake” festivals will send blanket-rejection letters to all applicants, others will send mass acceptance letters to every applicant, the end result however is the same. The showcase of filmmaker work that was promised never comes to fruition or does at a greatly reduced scale. They might promise to send out the submitted work…

Sam Kench

Internationally awarded writer and filmmaker