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April 17, 2014

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Las Vegas Film Festival awards prize to fake movie used in tax credit scam

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San Diego Asian Film Foundation

Hang Loose” will be shown at the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival, which runs July 19-22, 2012, at LVH.

In what reads like a bizarre twist on 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner “Argo,” a group of criminals recently attempted to scam the British government out of $4.3 million in film tax credits -- going so far as to make a fake film that ended up winning an award at the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival.

According to the Daily Mail, a group of entrepreneurs sought to con the U.K.’s HM Revenue and Customs into awarding them tax rebates for a fake film -- complete with a fabricated script and company office -- that claimed to star Hollywood A-listers like Jeremy Irons and had a budget of 20 million pounds. When tax officials became suspicious about the film’s lack of progress in 2011, the group made a film -- appropriately titled "Landscape of Lies” -- in an ill-fated attempt to cover their tracks.

Officials at the Las Vegas Film Festival, which gave the movie a Silver Ace Award last year, learned the truth when the fraudsters were jailed Monday and have now rescinded the award.

Festival Director Milo Kostelecky tells the Sun that he was surprised and concerned to learn that the film was a ruse, but adds that with more than 1,100 submissions to the festival, “things like this are bound to happen from time to time.”

The Silver Ace Award is one of about 200 awards given out by the festival and is described by Kostelecky as a “lower-tier award” that recognizes the film’s participation in the festival and a favorable score from some judges but does not receive any prizes.

“We have good standards, but apparently some of the judges enjoyed watching it,” Kostelecky says, explaining that the film’s $136,000 budget is relatively impressive in context of the many small-scale independent and student films submitted to the festival.

“That kind of budget shows us they have some pretty credible money for an independent film. I’d say 80 or 90 percent of the films we receive have a smaller budget than that. Just because they scammed the government, how are we supposed to know that?”

With the festival entering its sixth year, Kostelecky says that other festivals officials and he will try to find ways to monitor for situations like this going forward.

“I’ll have a meeting with all the judges and remind them of the situation. But I don’t think our judges would’ve had any clue that a film like this would have illegal things going on behind it. It’s like writing a report and plagiarizing -- it’s a hard thing to know on our end.”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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