It was in 1998 that Colin Geddes began selecting the weird and wonderful films that would make up the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness programme each year, but his introduction to the unique festival experience came a decade before that.
"I moved to Toronto from Kingston and (in) my first year of university I stood in line for the very first year of Midnight Madness (in 1988)," Geddes tells CityNews.ca, adding that he saw the film Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. "In that lineup at the Bloor (Cinema) I met guys who became my best friends, and every year I'd go and see more films at midnight. That's the great thing about Midnight Madness, it's a good entryway to the festival. You start at Midnight and then you realize there are more interesting, fun films playing in the daytime."
Midnight Madness attracts some of the most raucous and enthusiastic crowds of the festival, and the screenings at Ryerson Theatre almost always sell out. As a longtime fan of the programme before being given the chance to oversee it, Geddes feels obliged to give filmgoers something special each year.
"The audience for Midnight Madness is really special. When I'm selecting films I'm selecting them for the audience," he explains. "People think they're just a bunch of kids, but you look at the lineup and there are (people) from (age) 18 to 80. And they're really smart, educated filmgoers. They're not just horror film fans, they're not just anime freaks, they know world cinema and they're excited, enthusiastic, sometimes a little rowdy. But they also know how to enjoy and appreciate film."
Geddes screens more than 200 films each year, 10 of which make the final cut for TIFF. Among this year's selections, JCVD, featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme as you've never seen him, a peek into the little-known world of Australian exploitation films called Not Quite Hollywood, and Chocolate, a Thai actioner directed by Prachya Pinkaew of Ong-bak fame.
Watching movies may sound like a sweet gig, but the veteran programmer clarifies that the job has its downside.
"You've got to see a lot of bad films before you can find the gems," he notes. "Sometimes you have to talk to a director and tell them why their film's not in the film festival, and that's the worst because I know they've spent so much time and energy, and their credit cards and their parents' credit cards. Then I have to go, 'Not good enough.' But sometimes they come back again and again, and eventually they do get into the film festival."
So what's Geddes looking for in a prospective Midnight Madness flick?
"I'm always looking for innovation. I'm not going to show a sequel, I'm not going to show the same slasher film, I'm not going to show a remake unless it's something new and exciting. It's all about innovation, discovery. To be able to show a director from another country to an (unexpected) audience, that's the best," he says.
Midnight Madness arguably isn't for everyone, certainly not those looking for mainstream, safe cinematic fare, and Geddes jokes that some of the films screening this year aren't ideal 'first date' material. But what Midnight Madness does offer is a fun TIFF experience with zero snootiness. Not to mention some of the most memorable moments of the entire 10-day event.
"When Ong-bak played (in 2003) director Prachya Pinkaew and his wife arrived an hour before the film's screening. It didn't look like they were going to be able to make it," Geddes recalls.
"They were coming all the way from Thailand. They had problems with their visas, they arrived an hour before the midnight screening, their airline had lost their luggage. We had to take them to a dollar store across from the Uptown Theatre to get them new white T-shirts so they weren't wearing the clothes they flew in. At 2am after it finished playing, there was a standing ovation from 900 people and we went out for dinner in Chinatown. We called (the film's star) Tony Jaa, the phone went around the table, everyone talking to him, when it finally got to me, all I heard was, 'Hello, my name is Tony Jaa, and I'm crying because I'm so happy.'"
Here's what's playing at this year's Midnight Madness:
Dir. Mabrouk El Mechri
Thurs. Sept. 4, 11:59pm
Detroit Metal City (Japan)
Dir. Toshio Lee
Fri. Sept. 5, 11:59pm
Dir. Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel
Sat. Sept. 6, 11:59pm
Not Quite Hollywood (Australia/USA)
Dir. Mark Hartley
Sun. Sept. 7, 11:59pm
Dir. Jon Hewitt
Mon. Sept. 8, 11:59pm
The Burrowers (USA)
Dir. J.T. Petty
Tues. Sept. 9, 11:59pm
Dir. Pascal Laugier
Wed. Sept. 10, 11:59pm
Eden Log (France)
Dir. Franck Vestiel
Thurs. Sept. 11, 11:59pm
Dir. Miguel Marti
Fri. Sept. 12, 11:59pm
Dir. Prachya Pinkaew
Sat. Sept. 13, 11:59pm
Midnight Madness history
Classic Midnight Madness
Join the Midnight Madness Facebook group
Read the Midnight Madness blog
Comments? Suggestions? Email email@example.com
CityNews.ca covers TIFF08 on YouTube
Images of JCVD, Not Quite Hollywood, and Sexykiller courtesy the Toronto International Film Festival