Since 1988, the Midnight Madness slate at the Toronto International Film Festival has catered to a boisterous bunch of night-dwelling denizens looking for something off-beat from their Fest experience. Over the last quarter-century, selections have included films from legends such as George A. Romero and Dario Argento, and early films by the likes of Peter Jackson. Midnight Madness has even been the springboard for loads of directors, including Eli Roth.
What's unique about this genre slate is that it's programmed by a single individual. These are 10 films handpicked by one very knowledgeable host, Colin Geddes. A fan's fan, he's a guy that started out as a member of those early audiences, parlaying his passions into taking over from Noah Cowan back in 1998, shepherding it into one of the most entertaining and cinematically engaging aspects of this annual festival.
Moviefone Canada spoke to Colin over lunch days after this year's selection was announced.
Moviefone Canada: How would you describe the Midnight Madness experience to the uninitiated?
Colin Geddes: It's a selection of 10 films -- 10 wild, wacky and irreverent films from around the world that screen every night at midnight at the 1200-seat Ryerson Theatre. We have horror films, action films, black comedies, a potpourri from around the world of WTF-ness. One of the most important things about the series is the audience that comes. After 25 years of this programme, the audience knows what to expect. They know that they're going to have a rollicking good time.
What do you see as your mission when picking these films?
I'm very ruthless with my criteria: these are films that need to pop in the first 10 - 20 minutes. If you've been coming to the film festival for that day, this could be your first film, your second film, or maybe your sixth film of the day! It's my mission to wake you up. It's my mission to engage you until the end of the film, to make sure that you don't nod off. These are films that often are genre films, but they're films that are doing something different. I guarantee what you're seeing within this series is something that you probably haven't seen before, or haven't seen, been interpreted, or told in this manner.
Do you have the same concerns about snagging that world premiere as the rest of the festival?
It's nice to have that feather in your cap, but at the end of the day, I'm looking for quality of film and audience experience. I'm not going to waste the audience's time or money -- if I see a film at another film festival and I think it's going to work for the audience, and they're going to enjoy it, I work my damnedest to get it into the selection. If I see something which happens to be a world premiere, kudos to the Festival for us snagging it!
Just because a director has been in Midnight Madness before, doesn't mean they have a pass card to come back with whatever. And also at the same time, I like to use the arena to introduce new talent. We have that with the director of "Cub." This is his first film, he's young, from Belgium, Flemish, very confident, has made a really interesting, visually stylish film.You have the second-time directors like the director of "It Follows" and the director of "Big Game," and then seasoned pros like Kevin Smith.
Smith is here with the world premiere of "Tusk" -- is that a bigger challenge to deal with the expectations from a seasoned filmmaker?
No, it's not a challenge, that one's going to take care of itself. Kevin's got his audience, but at the same time, this is a film that is very different from what he's done before. Let's just put it this way: the less said about "Tusk" the better, because it's a film that's really going to surprise people. The one thing that I'll say about it is this: Kevin Smith is unflinching and uncompromising in his dedication to deliver full-on weirdness.
This is going to be one of those films for a generation, where it's going to be like, dude, did you ever see that film "Tusk"? The one with the guy?" "Yeah, that was weird." It's going to screw a lot of people up in a weird way.
And the Finnish guys from "Rare Exports" are now in Midnight Madness.
"Rare Exports" was a decidedly strange and unique Santa Claus film. Here, the director reunites with the same young actor and delivers basically an Amblin-style [i.e. Steven Spielberg film] kid-power action thriller that we haven't seen since the 1980s. I saw this film last night with [an] audience and they went bananas for it. This is a film that just totally knows what it is. It's very confident with that.
Could you talk about some of the big successes that have come out of Midnight Madness, and more importantly, some of the big surprises, those underdogs that started out as the unknown film that were then totally responded to?
It's interesting, I don't try and predict because oftentimes I can have a film that I think is good, but as soon as it falls into the hands of a distributor, the life is on its own. Look at "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" -- all of the signs of something that should just go and be fresh and really change the genre landscape, a new director, and then boom! You can even argue the same with "You're Next," where it's like OK, let's line this up for release, let's delay it a little bit, and then oh, "The Purge" came out. Different, but audiences perceive it as similar.
The breakouts or the hits, one that surprised me: "Cabin Fever." But more importantly, that director, I don't think I could have really predicted how Eli Roth's star would rise. It didn't rise overnight. It didn't rise automatically. That's one that definitely surprised me. "Ong Bak," I remember that was ... overnight we had an action superstar from Thailand. Walking into that screening, you couldn't have named an actor from Thailand.
Walking into that screening, you'd never heard of Muay Thai.
Yeah. The same with "The Raid" -- I can take pride in assembling at that point the biggest audience for an Indonesian film, ever. When have there been 1200 people gathered under one roof to watch an Indonesian film in North America?
How have you seen the audience change during your tenure as curator of Midnight Madness?
More women. That is so refreshing. In the past, it was really a very male-dominated audience experience. And now it's much more spread out across male and female, across the genders. And that's the biggest change, I would say.
Do you change the films to accommodate that shift in demographic?
Not necessarily, no. I mean, as far as, and this is going back to personal curatorial taste, films that are misogynistic for lack of a better word, or "rapey," I try and stay away from. I don't think that's smart writing. The whole nature in genre films, especially horror films, of sexual threat, is tired and old and hackneyed.
It's an easy thing to do like a jump scare.
I'm not changing to cater to that audience, but that's the biggest change that I've seen. It goes to the fact that there are fewer venues to see these films projected big, to share in an audience experience in the city. If you really love films and you really love seeing films big, the way they were meant to be seen, sometimes, this is your only chance. I mean, Rob Zombie's "Lords of Salem" -- it was the only time anyone got to see that in Canada projected.
Could you describe the crowd insanity?
Well, I think you can describe that better than I can, because you're the one sitting in the middle of it all! I just love and take pride in that audience, I take pride in showing that audience off to attending directors and actors. There's nothing like it. To see that line, single file, around the block, is something else. I have to correct the media often, it's like, oh no, there's a misconception that they come dressed up as their favourite characters from the movie and I'm like no, they've never seen the movie, they don't know these characters.
TIFF started as a community of film lovers. Would you say that Midnight Madness is the biggest surviving embodiment of TIFF's notion of that community?
I think so, I really think so.
It seems some of the audiences come just for Midnight Madness, but others use it as a way into the greater world of cinema.
Yeah, Midnight Madness is the gateway drug!
TIFF's Midnight Madness runs from Sept. 4 - 14.