I’ve often joked that if my film-directing career doesn’t work out that I will just start a film festival. It seems easy enough: Set up a website. Get your withoutabox.com profile and bank account active and voila: instant film festival.
It’s no wonder there are more than 1,000 festivals listed on withoutabox.com. Much like the fellowship/diversity program racket, they seem to be the only part of the film industry that is making money, mainly because they reach deeply into the pockets of hopeful, but naive filmmakers while promising nothing. It’s all reward with no risk (unless you consider dealing with angry filmmakers a risk).
Some have been set up by well meaning folks who just didn’t understand the massive undertaking of producing a festival, and subsequently failed or turned their festival 'digital' without advising the filmmakers. Others purposely named their festivals so that they'd be confused with more prestigious festivals in the hopes of baiting an unknowing film director or two,(then charging exorbitant amounts for ‘awards’ and ‘dinners’, etc. (again, without actually screening any of the films).
Others are just downright deplorable people who have made their careers as swindlers and con artists, like Marie Jocelyne, the subject of a new documentary being made titled “The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne.” From the Director, Martha Shane, who is co-producing with Dan Nuxoll (program director of the absolutely legitimate Rooftop Films):
“The story of how this all came about is quite unusual. You can read much more about this at the link above, but basically it all began when Marie Castaldo, then the director of the Queens International Film Festival, rented some equipment from Dan’s company, Rooftop Films. She never paid them afterwards, and she initially disappeared without a trace. By the time she re-surfaced to present the next year's film festival, Dan and I had met, and we started doing a little bit of research on Marie. One thing led to another, and we discovered that Marie had a long list of names that she'd used over the years, and under these various aliases, she had been running ethically suspect film festivals and film companies across the country for over twenty years.” (source: http://filmcourage.com/content/the-mystery-of-marie-jocelyne)