Published on August 15th, 2014 | by Greg Payne


Midnight Madness: Sophisticated Extremes

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Welcome to part two of Need To Consume’s conversation with Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes. Part one can be found here. Colin is easily one of the more emphatic people you’re likely to speak with; trying to keep up accurately with the italics as I transcribed our conversation soon proved to be a fool’s errand. Colin’s enthusiasm for challenging expectations and tastes with his picks is evident as he sells the willing listener on What They Should See.

Also, as I was transcribing, I noticed something interesting: Colin virtually never uses the word “movie.” He deals exclusively in “film.” Where many critics might lump a lot if not all of Colin’s programming choices into a lower…class, if you will, of cinema, to him, even the most whacked-out vampire epic, inky black caravan road trip comedy or Japanese giant monster smash-em-up is just as valid a work of art. Which says something about both Colin and his audience, I think. Unlike your stereotypical cineastes, acolytes of Midnight Madness are not about film snobbery. As the characters in Freaks, the filmic genetic ancestor of much of the MM programming if there is one, would chant, “One of us, one of us…”

NTC: So…Takashi Miike. He’s back this year, but it’s not in Midnight Madness, he’s in…Vanguard?

CG: Vanguard, yeah.

NTC: With Over Your Dead Body. For our readers, you told a great story about him at another screening, about his email address.

CG: So the first year that Takashi Miike came was in 1997, he came to Toronto, and didn’t come back for a couple of years. We were emailing, and his email address was something like…it was like “gummo” and a bunch of numbers. And I was, like the movie, Harmony Korine’s Gummo? “So your email, it’s like from the film Gummo?” “Yes.” “So you liked the film?” “I’ve never seen it.” “What?” “When I first came to Toronto, I got the program book. The first page I opened was a picture of a boy in a bunny suit. And I see this word: Gummo. I like that word. Gummo.” “Do you want to see a copy of the film? I can get you a copy of the film.” “No!” So it was amusing, it was just a snapshot of his experiences, just his memory of coming here and him wanting to save that memory. I thought it was just really flattering.

NTC: You’ve talked about how some people may perceive Midnight Madness as just horror films. How much of a conscious effort do you make to hit, if not a bunch of checkmark boxes, at least a specific variety? If you go out and you see these hundreds of movies during the year, and you compile your top ten list and you look at it and see, four of these are from one country, or four of these are one genre…how to you attain the balance you’re looking for?

CG: I try, and sometimes I can’t. I’m really at the mercy of what the market has to offer. It’s not like I have any kind of quota that I have to fill. [TIFF Artistic Director] Cameron Bailey doesn’t say “You have to have a fully-integrated, international selection. You have to have one comedy, you have to have one horror film, you have to have one extreme horror film, you have to have one film where someone gets kicked a lot of times.” It’s not like that. I mean, I’ll look back at the years that I’ve programmed and some of them I’m like “Oh yeah, that was a really American-heavy year.”

Colin Geddes with Bonny the Shih Tzu at the world premiere of "Seven Psychopaths" (Midnight Madness 2012)

Colin Geddes with Bonny the Shih Tzu at the world premiere of “Seven Psychopaths” (Midnight Madness 2012)

NTC: So you’re the sole curator of Vanguard now, am I correct?

CG: Well, the way that it works is I’m the curator, and that means I’m working with the other programmers. I have five selections in Vanguard myself, but then I figure out with those programmers whether or not [their] film fits into Vanguard. So I’m kind of the gatekeeper, the person who’s in charge of the brand. Steve Gravestock has a film called They Have Escaped, and he sent it over to me, like “Can you look at this and let me know if it’s Vanguard?” And that was a film which was definitely a slow burn, and then it gets really disturbing and crazy at the end and I’m like “Yep! That fits.” The Takashi Miike film is really closer to Audition than, say, Sukiyaki Western Django or Great Yokai War. It’s a lot more calculated, kind of a slow, developing story. So I’m like, “Okay, well let’s put that into Vanguard.”

NTC: So to your mind, what’s the main difference between Midnight Madness and Vanguard? Is it just the pace, the slow burn versus…

CG: Not necessarily. I think on a level it’s sophistication in story and craft. Well, not craft. In story. Midnight Madness is more about the extreme. And this is more about the sophisticated. These are a little bit more mature, for lack of a better word. My wife nails it perfectly: she says that Vanguard is like Midnight Madness’ cool older sister. So it’s like, the girl’s like “So, you seen Braindead/Dead Alive yet? You like that? Well, maybe you should watch Forgotten Silver. Maybe you should watch Heavenly Creatures.” I think it’s like that. So it’s more…the themes of the films in Vanguard are dark, dangerous, sexy and edgy. This is Midnight Madness, and this is what’s next.

NTC: One of your films a couple of years ago I found very affecting, and it wasn’t Midnight Madness, I forget which program it was in. It was Carré Blanc.

CG: Yeah. That was in Vanguard.

NTC: That’s one I thought, even though it’s very slow-paced, I could see that [playing] at midnight because you kind of emerge from it with this very nightmarish feeling, to step out onto the street at 2AM going…

CG: Yeah. I kinda like that, that’s the kind of curve ball. So I think you’re the type of audience member who can appreciate that. Did you see Eden Log?

NTC: I didn’t.

CG: Eden Log is one of those where it just puts you in a kind of really strange world that’s kind of a cross between…like a Tarkovsky film with zombies, but it’s very dreamy. But Vanguard, that’s where things kind of fall, for that.

NTC: In the past, sometimes you’ve introduced films in programs other than Midnight Madness, joking with the audience that “sometimes they let me out of my cage!” Within the TIFF organization, and I don’t know if this is something you can talk about, has there always been kind of this split: there’s the serious stuff, and then there’s what Colin is doing after midnight, and have you helped break that down if there is? Or was?

CG (thinks a long time):I think it’s kind of still there. I mean, let’s put it this way: Midnight Madness is so wildly popular, that is a serious matter. It’s almost like a little bit of counter-revolution going on behind the scenes of all this serious pondering on “arthouse.” So I think it’s just more, that’s where the fun is. Because at the same time, these films are really serious, masterful pieces of work. To get a crowd to believe that they’re in another world, to get them to believe that they’re in mortal peril, that takes a very special degree of craftsmanship by the director.

NTC: You mentioned that other programmers will bring stuff to you saying “is this for Vanguard?” How much general interaction is there between the programmers? Do you get rivalries, like “I want that for my program, or I want that…”

CG: No, not at all. We’re all…it’s a really good team, because many of us work in kind of different territories.   I’m one of the few programmers who’s kind of spread out—myself and Thom Powers, I would say, the documentary programmer—we’re the few who are spread out across different geographical territories. But Diana Sanchez, she looks after Spanish, Latin films, so…

NTC: At Juan of the Dead a couple of years ago, I was thinking “Why isn’t this one of…”

CG: Honestly, that’s one of the things…we talked about that. Personally, Juan of the Dead didn’t really work for me. Did you get to see it?

NTC: I did see it. I liked it for the most part. I thought the scale was amazing, for what they were able to do in Cuba. There was some stuff that was lost in translation, there was some ugly gay panic humour in it that I didn’t think really flew, but that may be just a cultural thing.

Colin Geddes introduces director Alexandre Aja at the world premiere of "Horns" (Vanguard 2013)

Colin Geddes introduces director Alexandre Aja at the world premiere of “Horns” (Vanguard 2013)

CG: For that, I watched it and I was like, I mean you and I know, the whole zombie comedy…Edgar did it. Edgar did it, and it really hasn’t busted out bigger since. I mean, what was it…Zombieland? That’s not a memorable film. Okay, Warm Bodies tried to do something different. I haven’t seen Life After Beth but I’m really intrigued to see how that plays out. But anyway, the whole kind of, running from zombies, killing them with different gags, it’s just been really recycled. So with Juan of the Dead, I didn’t think the Midnight Madness audience would like it. I think it would have been one of those films where half the audience would be like “Yeah!” and the other half would be like “Well, they ripped off this gag, they ripped off this gag…I’ve seen it before!”  However, for Diana’s audience, they don’t see zombie films. They don’t see that stuff. And so it was a very subversive way for them to experience that and then also talk about broader issues.

NTC: What does your year look like?

CG: My search for films really starts…it doesn’t end. During September, I’m going to be hearing about new films that will be ready for next September. I’ll be meeting with producers, directors, distributors, who will be like “Oh! This is going to be ready for you this year, we’re going to be shooting this, then…” and getting all of those tips. The course of my year really starts off, or seriously ramps up, in Berlin in February, then in Cannes. Those are the two tentpoles of my travel. As soon as Cannes ends in May, from May until the middle of July is just non-stop watching films, asking for films, watching for films, asking for films. Trying to seek out whatever is out there. There are still territories that we haven’t kind of cracked for Midnight Madness: I would love to get a really crazy Indian film. I’d love to show a three hour, insane, gonzo [Indian] film, and we almost got one, there was one last year called Eega. It played Toronto After Dark [Film Festival] and it was about a guy who gets reincarnated as a fly, and he tries to kill the man who killed him, who’s trying to woo his girlfriend. And it was a revenge action-comedy about a man reincarnated as a fly. It was crazy. So I’m trying to find something which is just outside of the moment. So those are the tentpole festivals, Berlin and Cannes, and within that I’ll travel to other areas and other regions, and try to liaise and meet with people to find out what is out there.

NTC: When do you lock down your program for the year?

CG: The program is now locked so I locked it down…my last invitation went out two weeks ago. Friday morning, I emailed a producer and told him, you’re in.

NTC: I think the website only has nine films up right now, is there one more coming?

CG: One more is coming, and it’s going to be announced at the Canadian press conference. So there’s a Canadian one coming. (Five days after our interview, The Editor, directed by Matthew Kennedy and Adam Brooks, was announced as the final film in the MM program.)

NTC: Do you get submissions where the directors or producers specifically say “I want this to be in Midnight Madness? I don’t want it to be in the Canadian part [of the festival].”

CG:  Throughout the year, with the Canadian films we had to, like “If you want it to be in Midnight Madness, you have to let us know.” The mistake that a lot of filmmakers make is that they just send it blindly to a film festival and don’t do any study. So if it’s not earmarked for me, it’s hard for it to make its way to me. There’s a lot of stuff we have to go through, and I’m talking with all the team members, and sometimes one of the other programmers will see something and pass it over to me, like “You should check this out, this might not work for Midnight Madness, but have a look at it.”

Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken at the world premiere of "Seven Psychopaths" (Midnight Madness 2012)

Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken at the world premiere of “Seven Psychopaths” (Midnight Madness 2012)

NTC: When you’re introducing a film to a crowd, is there a different dynamic between something that’s a little more star-studded and something that’s going to be completely new on all fronts? I mean, it’s one thing to introduce Megan Fox with Jennifer’s Body, or the cast of Seven Psychopaths, which was as star-studded as I’ve ever seen the stage, as opposed to, “Here’s a Cambodian martial arts director that you’ve never heard of.” What’s different about your pitch to the audience that night?

CG: I try first and foremost…I know that if I’ve got a film with celebrities, a part of that audience has never been to Midnight Madness before, and they’re just coming because it’s Megan Fox or whoever. So I try to welcome them to the experience, because I want them to walk away going “Wow! That was a really great experience!” Maybe they might not understand that, no, the audience wasn’t like this for Megan Fox, the audience is like this every night. Someone pointed out that the Midnight Madness audience, out of all the audiences at TIFF, that’s the audience that most wants to be there. Right? They’re just really excited, and really ready to just dive in and engage. They’re more excited to be there than an audience going to Roy Thompson Hall. There’s a certain level of expectation that they know is going to be met and engaged with.

NTC:  Two last questions, and this is about specific films. Between Switchblade Romance, À L’intérieur, Frontière(s), Ils, and Martyrs, what the hell is up with the French?

CG: There was just a really interesting spurt of creativity there of directors who were trying to make really different, transgressive horror films. Now the interesting thing about it though, is that, and this is why we’re not seeing more of it, that French wave wasn’t popular. All those films, in France, were failures. The French system is very different; horror films have a hard time playing in movie theatres in France. Movie theatres in France, and that whole system, is basically run by old men who think that horror films attract hoodlums who are going to slash their seats. So…I’m trying to think what the last extreme horror…

NTC: Martyrs springs to mind.

CG: Well, Martyrs was the big one because Martyrs

NTC: Didn’t they invent a new rating for it?

CG: They had to figure out a different rating because Martyrs got an X.  And it was just an outrage because they’d given it the same rating that they give sex films, but there’s not a lick of sex in the film. And that basically doomed the film. But even a film like Inside, it didn’t do well. And also, the critics accused them of making American films. Because there’s this belief that the horror genre is not an inherently French thing. But if you go back to storytelling, and the Grand-Guignol on the stage, it’s there. That’s a very interesting period and so that’s why it’s really important…I was in a really good position to tap into that when it first happened, and then continue to go and support those films because really, if we don’t support those films, they don’t get to go anywhere and travel.

NTC: Since you’ve been doing Midnight Madness, we’ve had a few noticeable trends. There was J-horror for a while, there was the French stuff, there’s been for lack of a better word torture porn with Saw and Hostel and all that they’ve spawned…whether it’s what you see in this year’s festival, or what you see coming down the pike, can you predict what the next wave of genre will be?

CG: Well…we’re still suffering through found footage, but luckily this year I don’t think I have one.

NTC: [Rec] 4?

CG: Nope, it’s not POV. Good one…trends trends trends, what’s coming up? I don’t know, there seems to be a really good…I don’t know if I can predict any good trends. I see there’s still home invasion films, although there is one film…I can’t talk about that one. I can’t talk about the rejects until after their [release] date! I can’t think of anything coming. I’d kind of like to see a resurgence in action, because I think a lot of horror tropes have been played out. It Follows is really good because it’s so fresh, it’s dealing with horror in a really different way, it’s like a sexually transmitted haunting. It’s so different, it’s refreshing. But I’d like to see….there’s a lot more things people could do within action, which hasn’t been done, and action thrillers, and that I think that hasn’t been kind of fully developed. So that’s where I’d like to see some stuff go. Or even more horror/action. Enough with horror/comedy, horror/action!

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Midnight Madness on Twitter: @mmadnesstiff

Greg Payne
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