For TIFF's Rejected, A Festival of Their Own
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For TIFF’s Rejected, A Festival of Their Own

Image courtesy of Stiffed.

David Amito and Michael Laicini, Toronto-based independent filmmakers, submitted their short film, Beware Pickpocket, for inclusion in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. But it, like the vast majority of films sent to TIFF each year, was rejected. Complaining about this state of affairs would only have invited the classic retort: “Why don’t you start your own film festival?” Which, as it happens, is exactly what they did.

“It was born out of a major defeat for us,” said Laicini. “I mean, we had a film that we’d put a lot of time and energy into, and were hoping for the best. And we were aiming for TIFF specifically…Especially since we’re both Toronto local talent, it just seemed like it would be a foolproof thing for us.”
For reference, over 3,500 films—both shorts and features—were submitted to TIFF this year. Only 339 were ultimately selected for inclusion in the Festival by programmers.
The pair aren’t always rejected. The previous short film they worked on together did, in fact, make it into some smaller film festivals, and won an award at the World Film Festival in Montreal. Their latest short is the first they’ve ever tried submitting to TIFF.

The Stiffed logo, designed by Chris von Szombathi, a friend of Amito and Laicini’s.

The film—which Laicini directed and Amito wrote and acted in—was rejected by TIFF only about a month ago, with a form letter. Within forty-eight hours, they’d hatched the idea for a festival consisting of nothing but TIFF’s scorned. They began recruiting others to help make it so.
They decided to call the event “Stiffed” (emphasis theirs). The first edition (they’re hoping to make it an annual thing) takes place this Sunday, at 7 p.m., at Camera Bar.
The theme of the event will be, as Amito cinematically put it: “triumphantly accepting rejection and moving forward, kind of in the spirit of Rocky.”
Despite having only been a month in the making, Stiffed already has its own logo (see to the right) complete with not-so-subtle Freudian iconography. (In fact, a postering campaign has made the Stiffed CN phallus a near-ubiquitous sight downtown for the past week or so.) The event website, however, is still only partially functional.
Amito and Laicini say they’ve been working twelve-hour days to bring their festival about, but that it’s been worthwhile: the response from filmmakers has been overwhelming. There have been dozens of submissions—but only fifteen films will be screening on the night.
“We’ve had to turn down more people than we’ve had the resources to accept,” said Laicini.
“Ultimately what it comes down to is that we are stiffing people as well,” said Amito, “which is basically kind of the reality of the situation. This is why we are in no way opposing what TIFF does. We acknowledge that this is kind of a necessity.”
Stiffed takes place this Sunday, September 19, at Camera Bar. It begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.