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July 17, 2004
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Bubba Interviews TIFF Midnight Madness Programmer Colin Geddes!

— Posted by John Campea

filmfest.jpgOne of the things that separates the Toronto International Film Festival from other festivals worldwide is its steadfast refusal to lock themselves into any particular box. While some festivals focus may focus on nationality, or genre, or technical aspects or industry needs, Toronto has always merged everything into one big pot, and pulled the whole thing off very well. A key cog in Toronto’s idiosyncratic wheel is the Midnight Madness portion of the festival. Where some festivals can come off as too serious for their own good the Toronto Festival has devoted an entire program to the ugly stepchildren of film – the genre pictures most don’t consider important enough to look at at all are given their own home here. Sci fi, horror and martial arts films from around the globe are not shunted off to the side here, they’re given a home of their own. The man responsible for bringing these often bizarre little films to our shores for the past several years is Colin Geddes. Yeah, I want his job. But seeing as he’s unlikely to give it up any time soon I had to settle for a just talking to the man. Were we hoping to land a scoop or two about the content of the Midnight Madness program this year? You bet, but since the screening process is still under way and the films haven’t been finalized yet the Festival’s Press Office asked us not to ask about what may be screening this year so as not to stir up false hope. And they asked Colin not to answer if we went ahead and asked anyway. We played nice, and though we don’t have any program news to spread just yet we think the results are well worth reading …

CG: Okay. I’m ready.

TMB: So, I’m not allowed to ask you anything about this year.

CG: Well, you can but there are really no films that I can let out of the bag yet.

TMB: Okay, well let’s start with some history. How long have you been with the festival now?

CG: I’ve been with the festival since 1997 when I was brought on as a co-programmer with Noah Cowan, who’s now the head of our programming department. Noah was the one who started the Midnight Madness program, I believe in 1989.

TMB: How’d you end up getting involved? Was that back when you were still doing kung fu screenings at the old porn theater?

CG: Um, yeah, I guess that was around the same time. I’d always been in the audience [ed: at Midnight Madness. Not the porn theater. At least not as far as I know. Just to clear that up.]. The way that I tumbled into it is kind of an interesting story. I originally came from rural Ontario to Toronto for college, to study graphic design, and in my first week in Toronto I stood in line for the very first year of Midnight Madness. In that line … I came from the country and when you live outside of Kingston you can’t really find too many people who can eloquently talk about Italian cannibal movies and spaghetti westerns and stuff like that. terroropera.jpgSo I made some incredible friends in that line up, people that I’m still friends with today. I went to the wedding of two of them and drove down to New York with another guy that I met in the line waiting to see Dario Argento’s Opera. I just started coming back to see more films every year, originally in the Midnight Madness program but then branching out and seeing more stuff in the rest of the festival. After that I graduated from graphic design and I did a ‘zine on Hong Kong and Asian films called Asian Eye. It only lasted two issues. It was more of a film journal than just a ‘zine. Somehow writing about these films that I loved got me some kind of degree of respectability around town and people at the festival started asking me for leads on Asian films that I knew and eventually they came to me and asked me if I’d like to join up and be a co-programmer of the Midnight Madness section. The following year Noah Cowan went on to program more things, the contemporary world section, and gave me the whole Madness program to myself.

TMB: Are you involved in any other parts of the festival or just the Midnight Madness?

CG: Primarily Midnight Madness but I do screen other films and if I see something that might not be for Midnight I’ll direct it to the right program or programmer and I do consult on other films, a lot of the other Asian films.

TMB: Did you have a hand in the Tsukamoto film [Vital] this year? I know you’ve brought him to Midnight Madness before.

CG: No. That one we knew about. Tsukamoto is a director who has graduated from Midnight Madness, as it were. tetsuo.jpgNoah Cowan first brought Tetsuo: The Iron Man. I remember that screening. It turned out that the print that we got had no English subtitles. Luckily there are only around twenty lines of dialog anyway and it was just a memorable screening. No one expected that film at all. So there’s a director who came back in subsequent years with two other films in Midnight Madness – Tokyo Fist and Tetsuo 2 – but Snake of June, Bullet Ballet and Gemini all screened outside of Midnight Madness. The same thing happened to Peter Jackson, if you look at it that way. braindead.jpgHe first came Toronto with Braindead, Dead Alive, in Midnight Madness and then graduated to Heavenly Creatures and also Forgotten Silver.

TMB: What theater are they using this year now that the Uptown has left us? [ed note: Midnight Madness was traditionally held in an old converted vaudeville theater called The Uptown up to and including last year. The Uptown was shut down for not being wheelchair accessible and collapsed while being dismantled to make room for a condo development, killing one person in a neighboring building and injuring several others.]

CG: This year we’re going to be using the Ryerson Theater. It’s kind of a secret gem. I didn’t even know about this cinema until this year. It’s on the Ryerson campus downtown and has around a thousand, maybe twelve hundred seats.

TMB: So it’s around the same size, even.

CG: Yeah. We’re definitely not compromising screen size. It’s still big. It’s just off Yonge Street. It’s still downtown. Because it’s on the campus it’s surrounded by a big, green courtyard where people will be able to congregate before and after the movie.

TMB: How does the selection process work? How long are you working this up? How many films would you typically look at?

CG: It’s hard to pinpoint an actual number of films. Luckily for me, this is a major hobby that has become a job so even though officially my contract is only a half year with the film festival I’m researching and tracking films all year long. The biggest thrill is the hunt. I just love keeping tabs on what’s coming up. Even if I didn’t have the film festival gig I’d still be obsessively tracking and looking for these films. All year long I keep a list of films I hear of that are in pre-production, post-production, from all over the world and as spring comes I start slowly contacting the sales agents or producers or directors directly.

TMB: Do you get to international festivals to see things? Pusan or places like that?

CG: Yeah, I went to a fabulous festival last year in Korea, just outside of Seoul, called PFAN. It’s happening in just the next week, I think. 28days.jpgThey had a fabulous selection of films. I got to see House of 1000 Corpses and 28 Days Later with a Korean audience, which was pretty unique. So, yeah, I do get to travel around to festivals every once in a while. There’s another festival I go to in Italy called the Udine Far East Film Festival and I’m able to see a really nice broad cross section of Asian film without having to travel as far as Asia and a lot of sales agents and directors show up to that.

TMB: What are the actual criteria for getting a film in? I know you look for as many premieres as you can possibly get.

CG: Yeah. For me the premiering is a big thing. I’ve been able to elevate the profile of the program over the past years because of that. Ideally I’d like to have, if not a North American premiere, at least a Canadian premiere. The Midnight Madness program is different from a lot of the other programs. When you say ‘film festival’ to people sometimes people who aren’t already in the circle of the audience, their eyes will kind of glaze over because they just think of art films. They think pretentious, they think boring. Midnight Madness is the antidote for that. Because I was in the audience for so long I really … I don’t program for myself, I don’t program for the industry, I program for the audience. I know what it’s like to be seeing five films a day and the last one you go to you want to wake up, you want it to give you a jolt and surprise you. So I look for something that delivers some kind of hook within the first fifteen or twenty minutes at the most. Otherwise the audience is just bleary and glazed. You’re there at midnight. You want something fun and you want something exciting.

Occasionally I get submissions from people who don’t understand what the program is like. There’s one director who called me up and was really enthusiastic about this picture that he had and thought it was perfect for Midnight but obviously he hadn’t read the description of previous films in the series. He submitted a courtroom drama. It was kind of sleazy, it had to do with a stripper, but still … it had some b-list actors in it that were kind of fun, but court? No. I couldn’t do it. So that’s kind of my criteria. Something that’ll hook you.

gozu_poster.jpgIn the beginning I used to try and do it with a list, like, “It’s got to be explosive! It’s got to be action! It’s got to be horror!” But every once in a while I’ll put something in there which is a bit of a curveball, that has a more subliminal hook. Like last year’s film Gozu.

TMB: I saw it. I was actually sitting next to the film’s rep and that guy was just shaking his head muttering “This is so messed up” over and over again …

CG: Yeah, when I first saw that I saw it on video and I was thinking, “Oh, I really like this but I think my audience is going to lynch me for making them sit through such a long, slow film.” It’s like a David Lynch surreal trip. I made a decision not to show it even though I love Miike’s films, I really do, and I’ve got a really special relationship with him, but no. Even he, he’s got a good sense of what Midnight Madness is about and he’s seen some stuff that I’ve shown that he thought was a bit slow and he’s questioned me about it. But then I saw it in Korea at that festival PFAN and they screened a print that only had French subtitles but seeing it projected changed my mind completely.

TMB: Well that end sequence … sure, he totally stole it but it’s got to be seen to be believed and Von Trier didn’t do it half as well.

CG: Exactly. Exactly. Miike’s a great director who really broke out of the Midnight Madness selection. I’ve got to give proper respect since I first found out about him through the programmers at Fantasia, but in ’97 we were able to bring Miike to Toronto. It was the first time he’d ever been to a North American, or even international, film festival and he had no idea that his films could have an audience outside of Japan.

TMB: Which film would that have been?

CG: That was for Fudoh. Richard Corliss from Time Magazine went on to pick it as one of the top films of that year.

TMB: Since you want the premieres so much, for those of us trying to figure out what might be there and what might not be would it be a safe bet to say that if it’s at Fantasia this year it won’t be in Midnight Madness?

CG: Probably not. Sometimes we have had stuff which has overlapped. Last year we both had Undead. Every once in a while there’s something where I just really want to bring it for the audience and I will just sort of splurge. Right now I’m just dying to be able to tell you about some of the stuff that I’ve been seeing … what’s good and what’s not so good … I guess we’ll probably have to have another conversation sometime when I can talk about what’s been good.

TMB: Sometime when you’ve been unleashed.

CG: Yeah, yeah.

TMB: I tried taking that approach and they said no. “Can he tell me what he’s been watching if he doesn’t actually say what’s coming?” “No.”

CG: It’s hard, yeah. And the Midnight Madness titles don’t get officially released until after the final press conference. We don’t like to be overshadowed by everybody else’s films.

TMB: You’ve mentioned how the program has broken a couple of directors. Is that something you have in mind when you’re screening things? What might be the next big thing?

ongbak2.jpgCG: Yes and no. It’s always hard to tell. If you talk to me after I’ve locked my films I’m never sure how the audience is going to react because I’ve watched all of these things in seclusion, by myself. Last year was an incredible year. I had no idea that Ong Bak was going to blow everybody’s minds. I guess because I’m so close to martial arts films in the first place when I saw it I thought it was really impressive but I didn’t foresee the impact on the big screen with that audience. Two o’clock in the morning we had a standing ovation of all seven or eight hundred people in the theater. For the director to be able to come fresh off of a plane an hour before the screening, the airline had lost his luggage, and for him to walk into a room filled with that much love was really incredible.

I’m always looking for stuff that is fresh and new. Two years ago I started getting submissions where every other film had to do with virtual technology and reality game shows and reality TV and it was so dead and tired even before it had really started. I’ll always see slasher films, which are nothing new. I’ll always see true to life serial killer films, which is also nothing new. After seeing so much stuff like this I feel like I have a little bit of a moral point not to show some of that stuff. Part of me says it’s just bad karma. To just show misogynistic films of killers going around raping and murdering, it’s not going to get you to a good place anywhere in life.

TMB: Do you see any kind of emerging trends in the whole genre thing? It seems like the Asian horror thing is starting to play out now.

cabinfever.gifCG: Yeah, the Asian horror film is starting to get a little played out. There are still some good shocks there but I think that international audiences aren’t as devoted as Asian audiences to what scares Asians. Right now I have everybody coming and saying, “I’ve got the next Cabin Fever for you.” Which is often not the case. I was talking to Eli Roth and he said, “Geez, I don’t even know if Cabin Fever 2 is going to be the new Cabin Fever.” Trends … I’m trying to think …

TMB: Any countries on the rise? Thailand seems to be coming up fast, and they’re pretty diverse.

CG: Yeah, Thailand and Korea are the two to watch out for because they just have a real tactical sophistication about them. The Korean film industry is luckily supported by their government …

TMB: Which might not be the case for much longer.

CG: Yeah, that’s the really sad thing. If the quota system is diminished …

TMB: I don’t understand why they would even consider dropping that. It’s been so good for the industry. It’s been so good for the country. It makes no sense at all to kill it.

CG: Yeah, but the pressure they’re under is because of America. As soon as the quota system is dropped then they can steamroll in and every multiplex will have Spiderman 2. The same thing happened in Hong Kong. One of my friends was pointing out that when Rob Roy came out it played in maybe two theaters in Hong Kong. Within a six month period Braveheart came out and Braveheart played in something like twenty five theaters. It was a trend that was just starting. It used to be that American films would come in and only play in a few theaters but then Hollywood came in and started flexing its trade muscles and completely decimated the local industry.

I try and keep the program balanced internationally. Right off the bat, when programming, I get sent a lot of American films. And there’s a lot of pressure for me to show those American films. But when my program is only nine films I really feel obligated to show what scares and excites people all around the world and not just America. That’s why I always try to get something new from France, from England, from Korea, from Spain, from wherever.

TMB: It seems like it’s been a good while since a new talent came out of Hong Kong. It’s been kind of sad to see it fall apart there.

CG: Yeah, it is. I was so close to that industry and it’s just … it’s dominated by what local audiences want and they’re not interested in martial arts films. It’s become very consumer driven and it’s just a very different market there now.

But there’s always a lot of good stuff coming out of Spain and Latin America. It’s hard to pinpoint where the good stuff is coming from. It’s easy to look over to Asia but there’s a lot of interesting stuff, even French stuff, that never makes it over here.

TMB: You mentioned Ong Bak before … are there any others that come to mind as being your best received films? The best screening experiences?

haute.jpgCG: Well last year there was Haute Tension. It really threw everyone threw a loop, nobody saw that coming.

TMB: I didn’t catch that one.

CG: Ooh. That one sparked a bidding war. Lions Gate picked it up. Young director, French director, twenty five years old, Alex Aja, he made this intense, bloody fairy tale and has now been signed on by William Morris and is apparently writing the Hills Have Eyes remake. Nobody had heard about that film until it played Toronto, then it went on to Sundance and Lions Gate is planning on doing a limited release of it. That was another big break out film.

TMB: What’s the worst received thing you’ve done?

CG: That I’ve played?

TMB: You ever offended anybody out of the theater?

CG: Oh yeah, that happens all the time. We always do that. I love offending people. The film Haute Tension, somebody that was in the film festival saw a clip of it playing and just thought that we were morally reprehensible for even showing a film like that. But then you’ve got to stand back with that person and go, “Okay, wait. That film affected you and that film touched you. Think about why it did that, think about how it pushed your buttons and maybe that’s a sign of a good film.”

I love being able to confront audiences. Not with a sledgehammer over their heads but in more subtle ways.

underworldposter.jpgBut a film which has been not well received … last year was kind of interesting because there was quite a divide on Underworld. The die-hard audiences, they knew not to go because the film was opening a week later. And that’s the thing … as an audience member, if you’re a devoted cinema lover, when you try to pick the films you’re going to see you try to pick the films that you might not know anything about but you know that you’re never going to have the chance to see on the big screen again. You take that. You don’t go see something that’s a gala that’s going to open a week later. So Underworld last year divided fans. But at the same time the kind of attention that Underworld got was able to shine on the other directors in the program, which I think was a really good thing. So you got some kids out who came to see Kate Beckinsale in this werewolf / vampire film and they said, “Hey wait a minute, they’re showing a Korean science fiction film?” And they’d go and see that.

TMB: And that was a great film.

greenplanet.jpgCG: Oh, Save the Green Planet? That’s a completely under rated film. But there’s nothing that people have really taken me to task for, said “Oh, that was a really bad film. How could you?” I’m sure it’s going to happen one day, but so far it hasn’t.

TMB: Have there been times when you’ve brought in directors or stars that have bounced you back to the whole fanboy thing? I know if I was bringing in Bruce Campbell it would be very hard to maintain any sort of straight face or serious conversation.

CG: It’s interesting. There is part of me that I have to put in check. When I first met Bruce Campbell we met on this completely professional level. There was no gushing. Not that there was no gushing allowed, but it’s just how Bruce is able to flip back and forth between charming the crowd and being a complete and total professional. I’m usually able to put it in check. The first star that I ever had to look after when I was doing Midnight Madness was for the film Office Killer. So I got to look after Molly Ringwald. And that was a little weird, because I was taking her to go to an ATM by the hotel that she was at and we’re just walking along talking casually and then suddenly it just hit me that this was Molly Ringwald. This was a girl that I grew up with on screen. It was a little odd to realize that I was talking to her one on one as a regular person. Yeah. For my first guest it threw me a little. But she was a sweetheart. There are certain actors that when you meet them you just realize that you have to put away your preconceptions of what they’re going to be like. Actors and directors. The biggest treat is usually when you’re working with an independent film, or a small foreign film, and you get to meet these people. That’s usually the experience that I like the most.

TMB: Can you put a date on when the confirmed program announcement is going to be?

CG: You’ll probably need to get back to the press office on that, but it should be late August.

Here endeth the interview.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So, let‚Äôs say for a second that I‚Äôm a devoted fan of international genre film and have spent the past little while trying to figure out what may turn up this year. What would I bet on seeing? Well, it‚Äôs all speculation and educated guesses, but here are my guesses. I‚Äôm sure there‚Äôs a lot of stuff out there that I don‚Äôt know about ‚Äì finding exciting new films is the whole point of this sort of program, after all ‚Äì so there‚Äôs no way I‚Äôm going to get them all, but I‚Äôd be willing to bet that at five or so of the films screened this year will be on the list below. I should be perfectly clear here so that I don’t get either Colin or myself in trouble – this is NOT BASED ON INSIDE INFORMATION. At all. We were given our limits and we stayed within them.

Let’s start with the old school Hong Kong action types.

First, Jackie Chan’s New Police Story. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a really great Jackie Chan film a fact that some pin on Chan’s advancing age while others prefer to pin it on an American industry that just doesn’t get what makes him great. Chan obviously has opted for door number two as he’s decided to stop making North American films for the indefinite future, preferring to get back to his Hong Kong roots, a move his legion of fans is widely applauding. The original Police Story films stand as some of Chan’s best work ever and if the trailer for this one is any indicator it looks as though this will stand pretty comfortably alongside those earlier films. Great fights and ridiculous stunt work. What could be better?

Second, Steven Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. Chow’s first film since the incredible Shaolin Soccer has been plagued by on set controversy and a host of delays so it’s questionable whether this will be done on time, but if he manages to wrap it up Kung Fu Hustle seems like a strong bet to make it in.

Third, Johnny To’s Throwdown. Yeah, he’s often pretty wildly derivative of John Woo but Woo at his peak is a pretty good person to be cribbing your notes off of and I just really love the trailer for this thing.

How ‘bout Korea?

Old Boy. Gotta be Old Boy. This film is hugely conspicuous by its absence from the Fantasia lineup and I absolutely refuse to believe that Fantasia didn’t go after Chan Wook Park’s masterpiece with both guns blazing. So why isn’t it there? My bet is that Toronto got to it first and locked it down tight. As far as I can see the only thing that keeps this from playing in Midnight Madness is if it gets bumped to one of the other programs thanks to the Grand Prix win at Cannes. Another strong possibility for a Park film is 3 Monster, the three part compendium film with segments from Park, Takashi Miike and Fruit Chan. Park’s segment looks to be complete and it the other two are done on time I can’t imagine Madness passing up the chance to throw Park and Miike up on screen in one shot.

Arahan. Looks like goofy, CG complemented martial arts / teen romance fun. Perhaps a more accomplished take on the same basic stew of ingredients that landed Volcano High a slot a couple years back.

Japan:

Takashi Miike. No doubt in my mind that there will be a Miike film present, its just a question of which one. Other than the aforementioned 3 Monster there are three strong possibilities in Zebraman, One Missed Call and Izo. One Missed Call is at Fantasia which probably rules it out, Zebraman is reportedly more family friendly than this segment of the festival normally goes in for, so my gut says Izo.

Casshern. This is another one wildly conspicuous by its absence in the Fantasia lineup … there is just sooooooo much buzz around this film that I refuse to believe that festivals aren’t going mad trying to land it. Since it’s not at Fantasia I’m pretty sure it’ll be here.

Japan means anime, and we’ve got some solid options here as well. Howl’s Moving Castle, Innocence, Steamboy and Appleseed are all available and apparently very good. My bet is that Castle and Steamboy both hit more family friendly programs, while Innocence hits maybe the Visions, Contemporary World Cinema or Masters streams, leaving Appleseed for Midnight Madness.

Juon 2. The first one played last year to great response and the second one is mighty good as well. Wouldn’t surprise me to see this there as well as the Sam Raimi-produced remake of the first.

Thailand:

The Pang Brothers. The work all over Asia now, but I still consider their films to be Thai. Two solid options in Abnormal Beauty and Re-Cycle but both will depend largely on whether they can wrap them up on time. Abnormal Beauty started earlier and is by far the less technically demanding of the two so it seems most likely to be ready on time, but I REALLY want to see Re-Cycle on the big screen.

Born To Fight. Geddes went on record last year saying that Ong Bak was the best received film he’s ever presented so I can’t believe he won’t give serious consideration to this film from the same director, choreographed by Ong Bak star Tony Jaa’s mentor.

The Bodyguard. The connections to Ong Bak hold here as well … different director, but stars Jaa’s sidekick from Ong Bak and Jaa himself turns up in an extended cameo. Oops. Just spotted that this was a late addition to Fantasia … never mind.

And what of the western world?

Well, if not for the fact that they’re all playing at Fantasia I’d have considered Shaun of the Dead, The Toolbox Murders and The Card Player to all be certain locks. I figure one of these will make it in purely because Argento and Hooper are just too significant to ignore and Shaun is just way too much fun. Two is a remote possibility and all three just won’t happen. What’s that leave?

A flurry of Asian horror film remakes – The Grudge, The Ring 2 and Dark Water – are all possible. The Grudge will definitely be good to go by then, Dark Water wrapped shooting here in Toronto a while ago so it should be ready as well and I’ve not heard any speculation on The Ring 2 recently but the original target release dates should put it in good range for the Festival.

As mentioned in the interview they often sneak a big budget studio flick into the Midnight Madness program and if that happens this year my money’s on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Frankly, I hope this happens, though it’s due to hit wide release so soon after the festival that it may not. Another large budget option is the Luc Besson produced Danny the Dog.

So there you go. Those are my guesses. I’ll come back and grade myself after the official announcement is made …

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