Colin Geddes Previews TIFF’s Midnight Madness and Vanguard Programmes
While TIFF is known for its prestige and glamour, it’s also a really, really big festival (nearly 400 features and shorts are playing this year), and thankfully that means there’s room for a lot of fun, insane films. That’s where the Midnight Madness programme comes in. One movie screens every night of the festival at midnight in a packed, 1200+ seat theatre for the most rabid fans of genre films.
The man responsible for all the fun is Colin Geddes, who’s been running Midnight Madness since 1998. But in the last several years, Geddes has expanded his reach to the Vanguard programme, which describes itself as “provocative, sexy…possibly dangerous.” A few examples of films Geddes has helped unveil to the world through these two programmes should give you an idea of his influence and impeccable taste: Cabin Fever, Ong-Bak, Insidious, The Duke of Burgundy, The Raid: Redemption and many, many more.
As someone who got their start at TIFF through Midnight Madness—the first film I ever bought a ticket for was Martyrs, a choice Geddes tells me is like “baptism by fire”—I was more than excited to chat with him about some of the films playing in both programmes this year. Needless to say, any fans of genre films (or anyone looking to seriously expand their horizons) should try to check these films out. You can look at the line-ups for Midnight Madness and Vanguard HERE, along with everything else playing at TIFF this year.
Read on for my interview with Colin Geddes, where he details a handful of films from each programme, gives a glimpse into the behind the scenes of the festival, and tells me what he thinks will be the most talked about film at Midnight Madness this year.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10th to 20th in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and you can buy individual tickets for films at the festival starting September 6th. To learn more, visit the festival’s website HERE.
I know some people who want to check out Midnight Madness but are afraid of essentially picking a really extreme film. What would be a good film for people to kind of dip their toes into the water this year with Midnight Madness?
What we celebrate with Midnight Madness is that it’s just a wild, crazy, fun ride. The criteria for picking the films is very different from the other programmers because I’m looking for a kind of tone and content. This is the last film people are seeing during the day, so it’s my mission to wake them up. It’s not necessarily always about horror films. It’s about action, thriller, comedy…
I would say that the one that kind of represents the Midnight Madness experience the most might be Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse, because it is just a gonzo brain-melter. Something different and crazy happens pretty much every five minutes. It’s a whole bunch of half-baked ideas happening in the film, but that’s kind of the fun of it. Takashi Miike is, in many respects, the godfather of the Midnight Madness programme. No other director has had as many films selected for Midnight Madness, and it looks like we’re actually going to have him here, something he hasn’t done since I think 2000. It’s gonna be nice to have him back.
And what would be a good film for someone who wants to get thrown in the deep end?
On the other end of the spectrum in Midnight Madness, if you want the baptism by fire, go hard or go home, there are two films. The first would be Baskin, which is a descent into hell from Turkey. I’m pretty proud that we have our first entry from Turkey in Midnight Madness this year. This one’s gonna have just as much of an effect on people as Martyrs potentially did. But the other one, which is also really intense but in a fun way, is Hardcore. It’s a Russian-American co-production, and it’s the first POV action film. I can safely say that it’s like the Blair Witch of action films.
What I strive to do with Midnight Madness is to get underdog films as much as I can. I actually veer away from big studio films. They can be fun and all, but I’d rather showcase a film from Japan or Turkey, somewhere you’re probably not going to see [the film] with that much energy. But then, at the same time, in order to properly champion those films, the programme always benefits by a couple of what you call tentpole films. So, if a newspaper article writes about Patrick Stewart in Green Room, then they’re also going to write about Baskin or Southbound or one of the smaller films. It’s important to have those in the mix, but I’m very selective on what I do. I just felt Green Room was a really sharp, fun thriller.
And with Final Girls, when I do a closing film, it’s a little more tricky just because of the kind of pedigree of premiere status. And it’s harder sometimes to have a world premiere at the end of the festival because that’s when the bulk of the media and the industry have probably left, so it’s hard for me to do a premiere at the end. But when I saw Final Girls the premiere status had already been broken, and I realized “You know what? Closing night!” Thematically, Final Girls is an excellent fit for the final night, and it’s also nice to end the programme on a humourous high.
Midnight Madness has established a lot of new filmmakers to audiences over the years. Do you have a particularly fond memory of a filmmaker you helped introduce through Midnight Madness?
I really take pride in being able to introduce audiences to Ong-Bak. Thai Cinema has had a rich history, but it’s a rich history which hasn’t really been known outside of its own country. And literally overnight we were able to introduce the world to the first Thai film star who became internationally recognized. Who knew from when we first screened Ong-Bak that, years later, Tony Jaa would be in a Fast & Furious film? And then repeating the same thing with The Raid: Redemption. I like to take pride that we probably brought the biggest audience anywhere in North America for an Indonesian film.
What can you tell me about Southbound? When you announced it, very little was known about the film.
Southbound is an anthology film, but as opposed to something like V/H/S which had an interlinking episode, in this film, the stories all interlock with one another. It’s kind of seamless, where one story ends and it moves into the beginning of the next story. It does have some of the directors who have done films for V/H/S including the collective Radio Silence and David Bruckner. It also has a female director, Roxanne Benjamin, who’s made a really fun segment. And a female director in Midnight Madness…Even within the guys of the anthology, I’m really proud to be able to do that. There aren’t a lot of female directors working in genre at the moment, but that’s slowly starting to change. To be able to help usher in a new voice into genre is really exciting.
I could ask about every film in the programme, but I’ll ask about one more: I’m really interested in the short film The Chickening, which I guess is the real opening film since it will play before Green Room.
[Laughs] The Chickening came to me from…I got a link from a good friend, but I didn’t take the link seriously. The e-mail sat in my inbox for a couple of weeks before I watched [it]. It’s kind of similar to if you have friends in bands. You’re kind of like “Ugh, here’s their new album, is it gonna be good or bad?” It’s the same with films. When I put The Chickening on my jaw dropped. It is one of the craziest, freakiest, fun things I’ve seen, and in many respects the less said about The Chickening the better. The Chickening is, I think, going to be one of the most talked about films in Midnight Madness, and it’s only 5 minutes long.
Moving on from Midnight Madness to Vanguard now, I feel like Vanguard is a really vital programme in a lot of ways. Aside from genre festivals, I don’t really see many major festivals around the world profiling the kind of in-between genre films that Vanguard shows off.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. In many ways, I can single you out as a poster child of how the TIFF experience goes. Midnight Madness is the gateway drug for people. That’s how it was for me. I stood in line for the first year of Midnight Madness, and after that, I started seeing more films within the festival. People can get kind of intimidated or scared off by art films or foreign films, but everyone can accept a horror film or an action film. But as the audience grows and matures, so do their tastes. And so I really feel that Vanguard is almost the older, cooler sister of Midnight Madness. These are where we can find films that intersect within genre and arthouse. It’s a fun programme to see the people who are taking it to heart. I used to be a Midnight Madness fan, and now I’m a Vanguard fan.
Oh, I’m so glad you caught on to that! I mean Gaspar and Lucile are in many ways cinematic opposites. Whereas Gaspar deals with the extremities, Lucile deals with the intimacies. It’s quite fascinating. I mean Love, there’s not much to be said about Love: It’s a 3D porn film. Or, more appropriately, it’s a love story, and those sequences of physical love are in 3D.
But Evolution is a little bit more of a hard nut to crack because it’s a sublime, body horror, fairy tale mystery. There are no easy answers in this one, but it is beautiful, lush and so engaging. Come and get ready to dive into that film. The imagery is just going to wash over you and slowly get under your skin. When people come out of Evolution they’re going to be talking about it.
It’s great because Longstreet is the lead, and it’s so nice to finally see a film that he’s carrying. Missing Girl is a fun, quirky indie. Quirky also works within Vanguard. This is almost a Ghost World-esque thriller in a minor key. It’s got some great performances, and it’s got this likable character who you’re concerned about. It’s a really nice, small, controlled universe.
And February is a kind of beautiful, sublime horror film. When I sat down and watched the film I wasn’t really sure where it was going, and then there’s a certain point where everything just clicked for me and I was along for the ride. It’s just kind of an awkward coming of age story that takes some very demonic twists.
When you’re programming films, does that moment you’re talking about where everything falls in place kind of entice you? Is that something you seek for when you’re watching things.
Yeah. Personally, for me, I like films where I don’t know where they’re going. I like going down a path that kind of twists and turns. Another example is Demon from Poland. That’s a film that I didn’t know much about. I tracked it down based on the name alone. And it was so rich and rewarding to see a film where I couldn’t predict what the outcome was. It’s also refreshing to see a tale from another part of the world. I’m at the whims of whatever the market gives me, but I try to do as many non-American films as I can. So to be able to discover and put a film from Poland in Vanguard makes me really happy.
Alex de la Iglesia was last seen in Midnight Madness with Witching and Bitching, and this year he’s in Vanguard with My Great Night. It looks a lot different from Witching and Bitching, but it still looks pretty wild.
It’s totally wild, yeah. This is a film that could have fit in Midnight Madness. There’s a definite madcap energy to it. It’s just about the filming of a New Year’s special in Spain and all the crazy people in the televised special. It’s like a long, drunk, crazy party. It’s as funny as Alex de la Iglesia’s other films. Diana Sanchez—the programmer who selected it—and I had a big talk about it. She was worried that the audience might not recognize some of the cultural references. I was like “No, this is totally going to work.” This is classic Alex, and anyone who’s in for this is totally in for this ride.
I think Midnight Madness and Vanguard have a unique quality compared to other programmes in the fest where you’re kind of the face of these programmes. Throughout the year, when you do this selection process for the programmes, how much of it is you and how much is more of a collaborative process with other people behind the scenes?
Midnight Madness is pretty much carte blanche for me, it’s all of my picks. But Vanguard is a collaborative process with the other programmers. I’ll see something, or they’ll see something, and we’ll meet or discuss whether or not we feel it might fit into Vanguard. A good example of this is Collective Invention from South Korea. I had watched it, and my selections were already full, so I immediately sent it over to our Asian programmer Giovanna Fulvi and said, “You have to see this.” It has the same kind of mad spark of genius we saw with some films at the beginning of the new wave of Korean cinema, like Save the Green Planet or The Foul King. It’s a perfect Vanguard film. She saw it and embraced it, and that’s how it ended up in Vanguard.
Finally, outside of the films in Midnight Madness and Vanguard, what is a film that you personally want to see badly?
High-Rise, Ben Wheatley’s film. I haven’t had a chance to see it. It’s in the Platform section. I’ve read the book, and when Wheatley was here for A Field in England he was telling me what he was going to be doing with the film. I’m so excited to see that one. Hopefully I’ll check it out before the festival. Otherwise I’m just gonna have to skip my duties and run and catch a screening while it’s on.