The Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of the most popular sections of the event and for more than 25 years has dished out action, horror, dark comedy, and cutting-edge genre cinema from all over the world. Colin Geddes, programmer of Midnight Madness, as well as the festival’s dark and edgy Vanguard program, sat down with Tiny Mix Tapes to talk about what to expect from this year’s films, how he selects the movies that play for the masses at TIFF, and just what goes into creating one of the best audience atmospheres of any film festival in the world.
Lets get straight into it. You are coming off the 25th anniversary of Midnight Madness last year and you had a pretty diverse selection. You had Almost Human, which was an awesome small find among all of these amazing films.
That was the underdog. Almost Human was the beautiful little underdog. I knew it might not meet the expectations of some people, but the passion those guys have — it just shone through.
You also had some new finds like The Station, which is now Blood Glacier.
It was originally Blood Glacier. That’s the translation of the original German title. And the sales agent was like, “No we’ll just call it The Station.” And the director was like, “What? Wait a minute!” When IFC bought it, I was like, “No, Blood Glacier is way better.”
I know! It makes so much more sense considering the genre and the films it references — people just get it. But there was such a wide selection last year. How do you top that? What is the preview for this year?
Every year it’s hard. And it gets harder and harder. If you talk to my wife about it, I beat myself up over it. Because I am trying to get a mix. I am trying to get an interesting mix. I don’t want just horror films. I want action films, I want black comedies, I want sci-fi — I don’t want it just to be centric to one nation. A couple of years ago there was one year where nine out of the 10 films were American — nothing against America — but it made me so sad because I like to show people there are other things. So I am trying to look at all these various things. I don’t program to quota. I don’t say I have to have ‘this, this and this’ as far as genre and ‘this, this and this’ as far as nationality. I’m really kind of at the whim of what the year has to offer. So that year that American triumphed, well, there wasn’t too much coming from Asia or Europe at the time. But this year I am pretty confident because it’s a varied buffet of sorts. You’ve got America represented, you’ve got New Zealand represented, you’ve got Japan represented, you’ve got Belgium represented and the first time we have had a Flemish language film [in Midnight Madness]. We have Australia represented with a documentary. And Finland, the UK with Big Game and, of course, Canada is in there as well.
So it’s really across the board this year. The kick off film Tokyo Tribe is going to be interesting. A real raucous way to start off Midnight Madness.
Yeah, it really is. The reason why we decided on Tokyo Tribe to open the festival was because Sion Sono won the audience choice award last year with Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, [which] Drafthouse Films will be releasing I believe in the fall. It just made sense. He has a new film, so lets just open with it. This one is crazy. It’s West Side Story meets Scarface, meets Fist of Fury.
It sounds like the perfect Midnight Madness movie.
And it’s also a musical. It’s totally gonzo. We have Sion Sono coming in for the film.
Is there anything like Almost Human? What is the small film or the find of the festival for the Midnight Madness program?
The underdog this year would be The Editor. This is by the members of the Astron-6 Collective.
And this is the Canadian film you referenced earlier?
Yes. Astron-6 is a collective out of Winnipeg. This is made by two of those members. If Guy Madden is referencing silent films, these are the VHS bastard sons of Guy Madden. They’re referencing exploitation films, straight-to-video films. And The Editor is a parody of the Italian slasher genre, the giallo. It’s as if the Zucker Brothers, the guys who made Airplane!, if they made a giallo comedy. So you can see they are making fun of it, but there still is a great love for the material they are referencing. It’s got blood, boobs, butts, cocks — its got something for everyone. Everything is flapping around; blood splattering and heads are being ripped off. It’s really fun, but at the same time it’s really tongue-and-cheek. That is going to be the underdog because it’s basically a micro-budget film. They just went out and did it. They just delivered their cut to us. The DCP is getting dropped off today.
The Editor (top), The Guest (bottom) / courtesy of TIFF
On the flip side you have The Guest, which will get a wide release, but it is interesting to see this at TIFF because it has so many connections to the festival and is part of the storied history of Midnight Madness. Adam Wingard has been one of the Midnight Madness favorites the past few years.
When I’m selecting the films and placing them night by night, I try to mix it up a bit and create a rhythm. I don’t want to have two extreme horror films back to back. I want to have some breathing room. But one of the obstacles that I have is that at the end of the festival, no one wants to have their world premiere at the end of the festival because there is just so much buzz and sales and industry activity at the beginning of the festival. The Guest had already premiered at Sundance and South by Southwest. I was like you know what — this one I am programming for the audience because they are really going to like it and its going to be kind of a fun homecoming for Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Especially because Simon Barrett was here last year during the film festival just as an audience member with the actor Dan Stevens. They were just coming to see the films. Have you seen the The Guest yet?
I have not. I didn’t catch it at Sundance this year. TIFF will be the first time I get a chance to watch it.
You are going to watch it and in the beginning you are going to be like, “Colin, I really think this belongs in Vanguard.” But there is one phone call about 20 minutes in, and you’ll be like, “OK…now I know what type of film it is.”
When I do my introductions, I am trying to be a conduit between them [the audience] and the film. Telling them a story about how I found the film. Maybe it’s not so much being a conduit for the film, but I think my enthusiasm for the film is kind of infectious and helps set up the situation.
That combination of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard — they create Midnight Madness films. You’re Next was the perfect midnight film. If there was a formula for Midnight Madness films, that film was it.
That was one of the biggest and most flattering compliments I have ever had. They actually made You’re Next specifically for Midnight Madness. Simon Barrett was the writer on a film called Dead Birds, which had played at TIFF around 2006 or 2007. Adam and Simon were at Midnight Madness in the audience when they were here with their debut film in Vanguard, A Horrible Way to Die. And also the producers of You’re Next and The Guest were the producers of All The Boys Love Mandy Lane and Bunraku, so they know and love that audience. They wanted to make something that audience would really love. Sure enough, it worked.
Speaking of the audience, how do you go about creating that atmosphere for Midnight Madness? Part of it is just 1,200 people crammed into a room going crazy for these movies. But you also get the crowd pumped up. What goes into it? Are you hand picking the pre-film music?
It’s kind of organic. It’s kind of like a perfect storm. One, because the series has been going for over 25 years. People don’t know what to expect, but they know there is going to be a fun experience, whatever they sign up for. Over the years I feel like we have given them [the audience] the best. It’s a very refined audience that comes in. A lot of people are surprised, they think the audience is all drunk and stoned — and maybe some of them are — but as soon as the lights go down, it’s quiet. As soon as someone starts talking, they are out of there. There is so much respect for the films. As far as the inflatables, the audience does that. The audience does that on their own. There are some people that don’t like it [laughs] because you have to constantly alert.
[Laughs] True, you risk getting hit in the side of the head with a beach ball if you are not aware of your surroundings.
But it’s just a really fun atmosphere. Someone I was talking to recently nailed it. They said, “Out of every audience, out of every screening at TIFF, this is the one audience that wants to be there the most.” I do handpick the music. I have playlists. I realized in many of the other cinemas, because we are not part of a cineplex-style experience, there is no pre-show or anything. There is a dead space here. So lets put something in just to change the atmosphere. Just dropping music into a crowded room changes it. This year I think I might actually use one artist for most of it. It’s an artist I know who does stuff on Bandcamp called Pilotpriest. Pilotpriest does this kind of fake soundtrack music, which will be perfect. I have also done a first this year. I’ve actually gone to a director and said, “Hey do you want to give me a playlist that we put in the theater before the films starts?” So Kevin Smith is giving me a playlist for Tusk. But when I do my introductions, I am trying to be a conduit between them [the audience] and the film. Telling them a story about how I found the film. Maybe it’s not so much being a conduit for the film, but I think my enthusiasm for the film is kind of infectious and helps set up the situation.
Some of the other films seem to have interesting twists or are a change of pace for the Midnight Madness program. It Follows is an interesting twist on the horror genre and also filmed in Detroit, something that came across my radar based on our discussion earlier about the films coming out of that city. There is also a documentary in there this year.
Mark Hartley’s documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Which is timely with one of the heads of Cannon passing away. It’s going to have breakdancing ninjas, chainsaws, and Chuck Norris.
You couldn’t ask for more!
Yeah — it’s going to be fun! One of the things that I like and I have heard from the audience is that they do like it when they get a director they don’t know. A discovery. You don’t really know what to expect. So Cub, from Belgium: First-time director. Belgium doesn’t really have much of a name for horror films, per se. I think this one is really going to surprise and delight the audience. It’s also just nice to help nurture someone new and bring them on to another level.
It’s got blood, boobs, butts, cocks — its got something for everyone. Everything is flapping around; blood splattering and heads are being ripped off. It’s really fun, but at the same time it’s really tongue-and-cheek.
Speaking of that, how do you work with the filmmakers? You are involved in production outside of TIFF and you know distributors. How do you work with the filmmakers through the entire festival process? Similar to Almost Human last year and some of the new filmmakers this year, they might be new to the scene.
I help them through the process. Sometimes I give advice when I see a rough cut if there are things I think could be tweaked. I offer constructive criticism. Even to the films I don’t select, because I see a lot of stuff. The curse of Midnight Madness is at the end of the day I can only select 10 films. Usually I will see 20 films which are good and would fit. But I have to cut through them and figure out what is that prime 10. So I often try and at least help and direct them to other festivals or other areas. But I do try to just give the directors a bit of a boot camp on what to expect. Because playing at TIFF there is a lot at stake. There are a lot of opportunities behind every door and behind every handshake. And they just need to be aware of that and ready to handle it.
To go back to country for a second: You mentioned all the countries represented this year in the Midnight Madness program. Place plays a very important part in some of these films. Again, Detroit in It Follows — you mention in the program guide it uses Detroit very well as a backdrop. But on a broader level, in terms of where these films are coming from, are you seeing anywhere in particular that is surprising or that you think the cinema of that country is really interesting for thrillers or horror or any other particular piece of genre film?
I think it goes in waves. We saw an interesting spurt of horror films coming from France for a while. They did very well on the festival circuit, but actually didn’t perform well at home in France. Personally, Scandinavian films. Rarely do I see a Danish film I don’t like. I don’t select a lot of Danish films because there are not so many horror films coming from there. As far as thrillers and interesting concepts, Danish films, always. South Korea, always. I will even watch romantic comedies from South Korea. Everything is so different and so fresh.
You must enjoy the City To City program at the festival this year, with its focus on Seoul.
I apologize for bumping the interview back a bit. I was going to try and see a press screening of A Hard Day, but then got sucked into all kinds of work. But South Korea has just been consistent for quite a while.
Hyena (top), Spring (bottom) / courtesy of TIFF
What about the Vanguard program? When you first started programming for the festival you were primarily focused on Midnight Madness, which very much has your personal stamp on it, while Vanguard is a collection of programmers working to discover this new, edgy cinema. Is there anything interesting in Vanguard you would point audiences to?
I’ve seen most of the films in the Vanguard program with the exception of two. And I have five picks of my own in there. I find Vanguard now sometimes a little bit more exciting than Midnight Madness. It’s a progression where people get their start at the film festival with Midnight Madness and as they grow within that section and as they grow with their tastes, they can move on to stuff which is a little bit more sophisticated and elevated. This year some excellent examples would be Spring, by the directors who did Resolution. Also Hyena, a film that is very much Bad Lieutenant meets Pusher set in the UK. It gets darker and darker. It’s just a complete downward spiral. There is Goodnight Mommy, a really effective body horror thriller. Luna by Dave McKean, the artist who did Arkham Asylum and The Sandman comics. We also have the new Takashi Miike film [Over Your Dead Body]. Takashi Miike is a director who has graduated from Midnight Madness into the Masters and Vanguard sections of the festival. This film pacing wise and structure wise is a little closer to Audition than some of his more wild work. But beautiful and exquisitely made.
Every year it’s hard. And it gets harder and harder. If you talk to my wife about it, I beat myself up over it. Because I am trying to get a mix. I am trying to get an interesting mix. I don’t want just horror films. I want action films, I want black comedies, I want sci-fi — I don’t want it just to be centric to one nation.
I was going to say, this is one of the first instances where you haven’t programmed one of his films. A different programmer [Giovanna Fulvi] chose this film.
There are two ways I look at the Vanguard program. It’s like an extra game of pinball. It’s like, “Oh! I get a free game.” If you like this, then you will probably like this. My wife nailed it a few years ago. She sad “Vanguard is Midnight Madness’s cooler, older sister.” You’ve seen Dawn of the Dead? Well why don’t you watch Enter the Void now. You elevate through a strata of filmgoing.
One thing I was curious about is the effect the internet and technology have had on how you operate. You’ve been programming for TIFF long enough and you have worked in the industry for enough time to see how these two things change the festival and the medium of film. Even the way you give out hints about the films before they are announced, a Midnight Madness tradition, has changed because of the audience’s ability to access images, quotes, and more at the push of a button. And there are very few, if any, 35mm films in the festival.
Let’s see, where do I start with that one.
It’s a big topic.
[Laughs] With things like Twitter and microblogging, there is now a much closer relationship between the audience and the film. The whole growth of Twitter I actually sometimes find overwhelming. To be able to connect these voices together. Now the audience can see the film and in some respects interact with parts of the film. The credits of Eli Roth’s Green Inferno had the Twitter handle of every actor.
I remember that at the festival last year. It really did stand out.
It was brilliant. Just brilliant. And to add to that he had contained within the credits all the cannibal films he was referencing. He had this amazing extra, almost like a DVD booklet in the credits.
Basically an additional later is being added on to everything.
Yes, exactly. And we are seeing the access to filmmaking technology change things. Directors can make things much quicker. Or easier, not necessarily quicker. Almost Human is a perfect example of this. At the same time, this opens the floodgates of the content we have to go through. We see a lot of stuff. Just because this equipment is accessible, there still has to be quality at the end of the day. The hardest part of the job is my summer is spent watching films — sometimes bad films — and then having to tell people that their films don’t fit for what we are looking for. I’ve never made a film. I’ve never directed a film. But I am well aware how much an investment it is with time, money and favors. It’s really hard for me to let those people down. But at the same time I am looking for something very specific.
Before we end the interview I was hoping you give us one film at the festival outside those sections you programmed. Something you are looking forward to the most.
Something I haven’t programed that is worth checking out? Oh, good call. The one I am most excited about, but not sure if I will have a chance to see during its festival run is the new Roy Andersson film, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.
Thanks for your time. Really appreciate it.
[Top Photo: George Pimentel]