Who Makes the Madness Happen?
An Interview with Colin Geddes
By Mike White
Cashiers du Cinemart: How’d you get involved in programming the Midnight Madness program for the Toronto International Film Festival?
Colin Geddes: It’s a long story, but to sum it up quickly, I came to Toronto from the country to study graphic design and my first week in the big city, I stood in line for the inaugural year of Midnight Madness, for HELLRAISER 2 and BRAIN DAMAGE. The following years I branched out, seeing more films in the festival. It was at the Festival that I first got turned onto Hong Kong films and decided to do a fanzine on the subject for my portfolio. After two issues [of Asian Eye], I somehow was perceived as an “expert” on the subject of Asian genre films and was contacted by Noah Cowan, the programmer for the Midnight Madness selection, on some of the stuff that I had been watching. In 1997, he asked me to join him as co-programmer and the following year, he passed the programming duties over to me. I have always found it funny that I am not working in the field that I went to school for, but all the signs to my career were in that first week in Toronto in a line-up for a movie at midnight.
CdC: Have you made any films yourself?
CG: I’m naturally a creative person, but feel more at ease with design and photography. At this point, I don’t think I would want to direct on my own, but rather produce and help some of the talented people I have come across over the past years with their own projects.
CdC: How do you hear/know about the films you try and get?
CG: What I do is essentially a hobby that has turned into a job, so all year long I keep tabs on rumours and production logs from around the world. I have a network of friends and professionals who will tip me off on the latest lesbian sea-monster epic from India or such stuff. By the time June rolls around I have a lengthy list of titles I have collected and then comes the hard part, finding out if the productions are finished or trying to get screening copies from faraway places. The Film Festival also gets loads of submissions but rarely do I make a pick from a blind submission. My picks often result from a director, writer or production company that I have been tracking, but every once in awhile something unexpected comes along like CABIN FEVER, which was a submission.
CdC: What movies have you tried to get but just weren’t able to?
CG: Oh, the ones that got away! It happens every year. Since I only have 9 to 10 slots, it’s a hard task to narrow down a selection, kind of like picking your favourite children. In 2002 I remember at the last hour trying to get a copy of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and begging Rob Zombie’s manager to send me something that I could see. At that point I was juggling HOUSE and CABIN FEVER. In the end I think I made the right decision. HOUSE had a future already, due to the controversy of the studios juggling it and then Lion’s Gate picked it up. It was a charge seeing the frenzy over CABIN FEVER and witnessing Eli Roth becoming a fanboy superstar.
Titles will get away due to the narrow minded nature of certain distributors and producers who wrongly perceive Midnight Madness as a ghetto, which is the farthest from the truth. Good films can become lost in the “Contemporary World Cinema” selection of the Festival, where in Midnight Madness, it is put on a platform and promoted to a broader, mainstream audience. I’m sorry, but zombies will never find a proper home or acceptance outside of Midnight Madness! Other titles that I wanted, but fell through for some reason were SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS (they opted to premiere at Sundance hoping for a BLAIR WITCH buzz, but that fizzled), CHERRY FALLS, STORM RIDERS, AZUMI, the Chinese language version of SHAOLIN SOCCER and a sneak preview of KILL BILL.
CdC: What are your criteria when deciding what to program?
CG: With the series being the midst of a full-on Festival, many audience members have already seen three to five films already and this is their last stop. It’s my mission to grab them, shake them around, wake them up and hopefully keep their attention for the next ninety or so minutes. I look for a film that has a good hook in the first twenty minutes and keeps the tension or pacing till the end. Since I have spent ten years as an audience member, I have a good understanding of what will work and what won’t, plus since I live in Toronto where the Fest takes place, many of the audience members know where I live and work, so I am open to criticism of my choices!
I do like to mix up the series and select films that will be more of a challenge, like THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT, Takashi Miike’s GOZU or this year’s transgressive flick, CALVAIRE by Fabrice du Welz. With GOZU, at first viewing on video, I thought that it dragged a little too much, but it was still creepy in a David Lynch kind of way, but I passed on it. A month later I got to see it projected at a festival in Korea, but the print had French subtitles. Seeing it projected changed my mind and I could see how it would work. Sure, I might lose some folks, but those who stayed would be rewarded by the ending.
The other thing that I must consider is the premiere status, that they are either world, international or North American debuts. I have been able to really elevate the level of the program by surprising the audience and industry folks with films that nobody knew about like ONG BAK: MUAY THAI WARRIOR, CABIN FEVER, HAUTE TENSION or WILD ZERO.
On the other hand, I remember one year I got a call form a director who said he had a film that was perfect for Midnight Madness. The cast was full of cult stars form the seventies and sounded amazing: William Smith, Bo Hopkins, Randell “Tex” Cobb and Sydney Lassick! When I got the film, it was a courtroom drama! Arrrgh! Somehow, that director didn’t quite understand the concept of Midnight Madness.
CdC: Are there any trends you can see in midnight movies? Are there more to choose from now than, say, four years ago? CG: The choices that I have go up and down every year depending on the state of world cinema. Over the past years there have been more Asian titles, but that is just due to a boom in production and creativity from Korea and Thailand. I could easily program all Asian films, but I do understand that I need to have a well-rounded selection and that the audience is not as crazy about these films as I am. Sadly, the genre films from parts of Europe, like Italy, have almost dried up. I wish that Dario Argento, who was selected several times by Midnight Madness in the past, would bounce back to form. I like to be able to screen genre films from countries that might not be commonly known for that cinema, like this year’s KONTROLL from Hungary or when I first screened a film from Thailand like 6IXTYNIN9 in 2000.
There are more films shot on video submitted every year, but most are just abysmal. As fun as this job is, I still have to spend the bulk of my summer indoors watching crap titles and then diplomatically telling the directors and producers, who are so close to the projects, why the film will not work in my program and with this audience.
CdC: What would be your ideal program for a week of midnight movies (not limited by time/existence/budget, etc)?
CG: That’s a tough one. Again, like picking seven of your favourite kids! It would consist of cult classics, wild grindhouse and crazy foreign fare. Off the top of my head: EL TOPO, ERASERHEAD, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CAMILLE 2000,VIDEODROME, the first Indian “curry western” SHOLAY, and THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS.
To try and keep tabs on what Colin is up to, visit his website at www.ultra8.ca.