It’s a sweltering late July afternoon, but I’m still sitting down over a cup of warm tea at Canteen in the lobby of the TIFF Bell Lightbox and talking to Colin Geddes the day after most of his choices for the heavily watched and buzzed about Midnight Madness and Vanguard sections had been announced. (Really the only thing we couldn’t talk about was The Editor, a straight-up giallo parody that had its announcement held off until the Canadian films press conference since it comes from the beloved Astron 6 collaborators behind Father’s Day and Manborg).
The purpose of the conversation, other than to talk about the individual films playing and why they were selected, is to showcase the difference in boundary pushing genre fare between the festival’s biggest genre heavy programs.
Midnight Madness needs no introduction. It’s the late night shock and awe spectacle designed to send tired viewers, cult movie enthusiasts, genre buffs, and the adventurous home from a long day of festivaling on a high night. Geddes has programmed for that series since 1997, but if Midnight Madness is a way in for many talented newcomers, then the newer Vanguard series looks like the next step.
Designed for more serious, often challenging genre fare, Vanguard skews a little more older and thoughtful than its more established counterpart. And yet, as Geddes points out, more and more Midnight Madness patrons have been making a point to check out a lot of the Vanguard fare, as well, a movement that shows a progression in audiences and filmmakers alike.
We chatted with Colin about his search for this year’s films and the difference between what makes a Vanguard film and what makes a Midnight Madness film.
Dork Shelf: Since you’re the main face of genre at the festival, I think it’s important to distinguish that across both the Midnight Madness and Vanguard programs that you’re playing with a lot of different kinds of genres. Since these movies are being produced all the time, you might be the person who could feasibly start search for next year’s line-up the second this year’s ends. For you, when do things start to get serious terms of getting submissions and when you start looking at programming for the next year?
Colin Geddes: Literally the day after the festival, and in many cases DURING the festival. (laughs) During the festival I’m always having meetings with directors, producers, and distributors who will drop hints on stuff they’re working on for next year. That’s when I start adding to my tracking list. I continue to add things throughout the year to that list, but in February around the time of Berlin, that’s when you get a clearer idea of production schedules. At Cannes you tend to figure out what can actually be delivered in time. My high season – and by high season, I mean the period when I watch the most movies – is May until the middle of July. It’s kind of a two and a half month period where it gets the most intense.
I actually just handed back today the last of the DVD screeners that had been littering my living room floor, and that means starting tomorrow I can watch what I want to! (laughs) At last! I get to watch what I want to, but it also finally gives me a chance to watch other programmer’s films. There are a bunch of titles that Steve Gravestock has picked that I really want to catch up with. And then I can lobby for his films, as well.
DS: I know that you program primarily for Midnight Madness and Vanguard, but you also tend to sneak in film in other sections, as well, so when you watch a film, what is a criteria for you that determines if a film would work better in Midnight Madness or Vanguard?
CG: The difference between Midnight Madness and Vanguard, first and foremost, I think is in the pacing, For Midnight Madness because this is the last stop of the day for the audience and maybe they’ve seen one, two, three, four, or more films in a day before this during the day, it’s my mission to wake them up with the programming. It has to get at the top within the first twenty minutes and keep your attention until two in the morning.
If the film is a bit more of a slow burn, but it gets crazy at the end, that might not work. Sometimes it does. Sometimes I’ll throw a curveball in there, but most of the time for midnight, you really have to deliver on all these different tones and rhythms that will play well for that audience. It’s kind of like the difference between jazz and rock.
For Vanguard, that’s where films can take a little more time to develop, and they might be a little more mature in their themes and sophisticated in their storytelling. That’s not belittling Midnight Madness because there are still really sophisticated films there, but it’s just a different tone. Although sometimes there are films in there that could have played in Midnight Madness, but those I consider extra balls in a game of pinball for the audience.
DS: Over the past few years there have been filmmakers that have started out in Midnight Madness and moved on to Vanguard or other programs, like Wavelengths, Special Presentations, and even Galas, so what’s it like for you to sort of work in the proving grounds of the festival?
CG: Well, this year you have someone like Takashi Miike, who’s gone from Midnight to Vanguard to Masters. That’s a perfect example. This year he’s back in Vanguard with Over Your Dead Body, but from Sukiyaki Western Django to this, it’s a very different pedigree.
But that’s exactly it. You cut your teeth in places like this. Midnight Madness for emerging filmmakers can be like Frosh week, or it could be a way for established filmmakers to become rejuvenated.
DS: Do you ever get the inking that when you watch a film from someone like maybe a Ben Wheatley or an Adam Wingard that they’re going to go on to bigger things and that they’ll be constantly growing as an artist?
CG: I think Ben Wheatley is the best example of that. When you see that second film, you know that the director is doing something different. Someone like Jim Mickle is also a perfect example of that. He’s done four films now and each one is different and more tonally mature as it goes along. That’s the fascinating thing about discovering someone who might turn out to be a Scorsese or a Woody Allen. How are they going to play out? How will they grow and mature. Those are the kinds of filmmakers who would have been in a program like Vanguard? Look at something like Boxcar Bertha. When that came out it was seen as kind of a depression era, oat eater kind of exploitation film. Where would a filmmaker like that fit in now? Probably in something like Midnight Madness or Vanguard.
DS: With Vanguard, I noticed this year there are three films that deal with cops or ex-cops – Hyena, The World of Kanako, and Waste Land.
CG: All three are about bad cops, rogue cops. Even outside this program, one of Steve’s picks, the Susanne Bier film A Second Chance, has that, too, or lawmakers doing bad things to fulfil good intentions. But yeah, just random chance.
Hyena is like a British Bad Lieutenant. It’s really dark. World of Kanako just goes in so many different directions, but that’s what you’d expect from the director of Confessions. These are films that straddle those genre lines.
This is kind of relevant, but there’s a great quote from Amy Nicholson in LA Weekly when she was talking about strong female characters in the context of the movie Lucy, and she said [reading the article off his phone]:
“But before we pop champagne bottles to toast the ascendence of the female action hero, let’s look at exactly what we’re celebrating. Johansson’s Lucy is what people wrongheadedly applaud as a Strong Female Character. The Strong Female Character is a patronizing red herring that mistakes triceps for depth. What makes a character strong isn’t her ability to punch and kill. It’s that the writing of that character is so firm, rich, and memorable that after the theater lights come up, you could pluck them out of the movie and imagine their response to a new situation.
You’d never call a male character a Strong Male Character. But replace female with male and the difference is clear: it’s the gulf between Michael Corleone and any role played by Steven Seagal.”
And she really hits upon that difference in what I think makes a good cop thriller. If you have a film where Steven Seagal plays a cop, or you have a film like Hyena that has this huge backstory, it’s a very, very different thing. When I read that it really does help to explain the difference between a Corelone or a Seagal.
DS: And these films in Vanguard are at their heart genre films, but they’re the kind that are hard to describe in a single sentence, which makes them riskier genre efforts.
CG: I mean, just in images it’s hard to explain. The images we got to use for Hyena were hard to describe. They were all these shots of a cop being moody and then one picture of three Albanians in a shower covered in blood, and I’m thinking, “This is kind of sending the wrong message of what this movie is.” But this film is more about a character that’s deep in conflict. The further he goes to repair his mistakes and fix his legal transgressions, the worse he’s getting. He just can’t get out of it.
But yeah, on the surface it sounds like genre. And as you know, in both film festivals and in criticism, genre can be sort of a dirty word.
DS: But it doesn’t necessarily have to be, and I think that’s why the Vanguard program I think is one of the more valuable programs in the festival.
CG: (laughs) Could you make a quote out of that? But I mean, it is. It’s interesting to see not only the progression of filmmakers, but the graduation of an audience. We’re seeing an audience that has grown up on Midnight Madness that are now getting more excited about the titles in Vanguard. I really like seeing that. It shows the audience’s taste and sophistication.
DS: And quite often it’s good scheduling, where many Vanguard films will play in the early evening and a lot of people will rush over to the Ryerson afterwards and still make Midnight Madness.
CG: There are a lot of the same faces. I’m so happy they can make that leap. I remember when we played Daybreakers at Midnight Madness and Antichrist back to back, and I told Willem Dafoe that it would be a different crowd and he just looks around and says, “These are the same people!” (laughs)
DS: There are two other filmmakers coming back to the festival this year in Vanguard. Witching and Bitching director Alex de la Iglesia comes back as the producer of Shrew’s Nest, and Peter Strickland comes back with The Duke of Burgundy after just being here with Berberian Sound Studio. When were these films on your radar since both of these people were just here recently?
CG: I didn’t know that Alex was working on a film until about February, and that one is one of Diana Sanchez’s picks. I knew in February that this film was in production. Also, I didn’t know that Alex was taking on the role of a producer, so that’s something very important for him to do in Spanish genre cinema. He has so many great people who work with him, so it’s great to see all this talent come together.
Then with Peter Strickland, the creative team on this one are people who work a lot with Ben Wheatley, including Wheatley himself. That was one that I was very aware of. I knew Peter was working on it and I have a good relationship with the people who produce Ben Wheatley’s films, so they made sure they would have something for us. But The Duke of Burgundy was actually one of Cameron Bailey’s picks within Vanguard! That’s another director who will get another kind of exposure thanks to Cameron’s stamp of approval, and this one is a weird, sexy film. It’s kind of trapped in amber in this 1960s netherworld, and it’s really smart. Peter Strickland is a brilliant visual stylist with a wry sense of humour, so yeah, it’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek erotica.
DS: Vanguard has one of my most anticipated films of the festival in the form of Spring. I loved Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s last film Resolution and thought it was one of the best films of that year, and I’m excited to see what they do as part of this program with what feels like a very different and more mature film.
CG: This one was a case where I knew the directors and I was very curious to see what they were going to do next. It’s another microbudget film, despite being shot in Europe. Again, it’s not a big film.
The less said about it, the better. Aside from saying somewhat sarcastically that Before Sunrise, which is a great movie, needs more of a supernatural element to it. That’s what this is. A young guy who’s down on his luck, his mom just died of cancer, and he’s spinning his wheels as a line cook decides to take that European backpacking trip that so many people go on. He ends up in Italy, he sees some stuff, he experiences things, he stops in a small town to work in an orchard and he meets a beautiful woman. But… there’s more that happens. It’s so smart and subtle.
I was at an industry production presentation with them in Montreal where they presented in Frontiers, the industry side of the Fantasia festival, and they showed a trailer and five clips. They never put into context for the audience what they saw at all. This is a film where you really have to discover it as it goes along. But they are the real deal and something special. And they’re super sarcastic and funny in person.
DS: We talked about this in private the other day, but it’s such a great story that I was wondering if you could tell us how Luna came to you guys?
CG: Well, the short version isn’t as interesting, but the longer version is. The short version is that a producer reached out to me, and he had a couple of films that he thought I might want to see, and one of them happened to be Luna. Initially there wasn’t too much fanfare around who made it, but when I started watching it, I saw that it was Dave McKean. That was it. It kind of came to me and it wasn’t a film that I had been tracking at all.
Then, after I had seen it and liked it, I picked up an edition of Sandman that my wife had bought for me because she was a fan of the comic and I hadn’t really delved into a lot of the Vertigo stuff. It said in there in his bio that Dave was working on his next film, Luna, but the copyright on the book was 2008. So this movie has clearly been in production for about seven or eight years. I think it had a bit of a difficult project to make because it’s all self-funded and really ambitious.
But it’s one of the films that I am the most passionate about on an emotional level. I made a joke a couple of days before I saw the film where I said to name a film that has a protagonist that’s an artist who isn’t pretentious, deluded, or stupid. I had just seen an erotic thriller where there was an artist who was also a stripper, so that says a lot there. Then after I made that joke, I saw this film where all the protagonists are artists and it worked! It has such a great underlying current of magic realism to go along with the emotional baggage that each one of these characters has. It’s animation, stop-motion, just an incredibly kind of weaved tapestry around the film.
DS: I think the most common question you get asked every year is “If someone has never been to Midnight Madness before, what’s the film they should see that can encapsulate the experience best?” If you were to try and peg down what Vanguard is, what film would you choose for people new to that program?
CG: Interesting. It’s a little more subjective, I believe, because with Midnight Madness, the audience often IS the experience. I always that I have to correct people on that because it often means people think that it’s some sort of Comic-con situation where people come dressed as their favourite characters. This is an audience of serious cinephiles. They’re the crowd that most wants to be at a film at this festival.
But with Vanguard, there isn’t that same kind of rampant energy, which makes it harder to describe. I’m not sure if it needs that heightening, either. Vanguard is a lot about discovery and not knowing what’s coming next. It’s about the voyage.
But the entry point for Vanguard this year – and again I’m not playing favourites or single out a favourite child – I would probably have to say Spring is a good example. But that’s also picked with not wanting to freak anyone out too much. (laughs) If someone wants the full freak out, Goodnight Mommy.
DS: Using that as a segway to Midnight Madness, I have been hearing from a lot of people that this year’s film that will most likely encapsulate the Midnight Madness experience is Big Game. When people read the description, that’s really all they need to hear.
CG: I just left a production meeting with all of the programmers and it was the first film I talked about. A fourteen year old boy, the President of the United States needs to be saved from terrorist. This is Home Alone meets Die Hard in Finland with Samuel L. Jackson as the President. It’s a hard movie to NOT want to see.
DS: Last year at the festival audiences the Midnight Madness audience really loved Why Don’t You Play in Hell, and this year Sion Sono is returning to the festival and opening with Tokyo Tribe, which sounds even crazier. How do you think people who loved Why Don’t You Play in Hell are going to react to this one?
CG: It’s just as brash and audacious. It also shows what he can do at a larger budget level, too. He has totally recreated this wild world on backlots of Japanese studios. It defies all description. It’s a hip-hop-yakuza-gangster-warfare-musical. Just wait till you see the human beatbox in it. She’s amazing. She is awesome.
DS: Toronto also has a huge love for Kevin Smith, he has been to this city so many times and always gets a huge response, and while Tusk seems like a huge departure for him as a filmmaker, this was the filmmaker where on Twitter and everywhere else online people were pretty much begging you to book it.
CG: This film represents Kevin Smith with a vision that’s uncompromised. His dedication to weirdness here is unparalleled. It is just single-mindedly creep people out, and this will be a film that redefines him as a filmmaker. People might see the plot and think it’s some sort of take on The Human Centipede, but there’s nothing sexual about it, but unlike that film this one is something that I think will hold up over generations and people will talk about it because of how weird it is. Kids will talk to each other and say “Did you see that movie Tusk, where that guy gets turned into a walrus?” It’s something else, that screening will be a circus. This will create a new perception of him with audiences who might not have the same history with his work that others have had.
DS: What We Do in the Shadows comes here already with quite a bit of buzz as a comedy.
CG: I can’t wait to share this with an audience, and I can’t wait to see it more than once with an audience. It’s a fun film to discover. It’s very much in the Christopher Guest mock-doc style. The reason why I picked it was because it had already played at some other festivals, but I really liked it and wanted to share it with our audience. Also, I picked it because as a programmer of something like Midnight Madness, you have to function like a bit of a DJ. At that point, I think anyone is going to need a genuine, honest, well earned laugh. There will be laughs in the films beforehand, but here the main focus is one that. I’m giddy to share that.
DS: It Follows has also been getting a considerable amount of acclaim the past few months.
CG: It’s fresh. It’s so more than a horror film. The concept is remarkably fresh, You haven’t seen anything like this. It’s hitting on themes of adolescents becoming adults, sexuality without explicitly showing sexuality or being exploitative. It’s a really dedicated look at a certain kind of middle class life. David Robert Mitchell previously did The Myth of the American Sleepover, and that’s very much carrying over that kind of nostalgia of suburban life. But then he’s injecting this palpable fear and terror. It’s a well crafted film where the parents are never around. It’s just about the kids and the focus on these characters.
DS: I have actually already seen The Guest, and even I have a hard time talking about how awesome it is without spoiling it. I really like that one. It’s quite different from You’re Next.
CG: Yeah, and honestly that was what I was expecting, but this is very hard to talk about without spoiling it. When I watched it about halfway through I thought it could fit in Vangaurd, and then something happens when I said “Wait, a minute…” and I knew it had to be Midnight Madness. It’s a good example of what I was talking about where a film can pull that switch and something happens to become that movie. And it’s the same actress who did It Follows, Maika Monroe.
DS: What is it about [REC] 4: Apocalypse that makes it stand up well against the rest of its already beloved franchise enough to make it into the festival this year?
CG: I look at the third one as a film where the people behind the franchise didn’t expect for things to be going on this long, and for them it’s just kind of a piss take and having some fun with the world they created. This final one returns to the storyline that was set up before, and it’s a nice capping.
You know what you are going to get from these films. You go in with a certain degree of expectation, and they are met. There’s action, raging zombies, and a good sense of humour. The makers of the [REC] series don’t treat zombies like so many other filmmakers do, which is to see them as the cheapest, easiest things in the world. They built an entire world that started from a small area and made its way outward.
DS: The one film out of all of these that I have heard the least about from everything we have talked about – which makes me most intrigued to check it out – is Cub, which seems like a pretty cool premise for a film?
CG: This goes back to when we were talking about the Adam Wingard and Ben Wheatley types. This is a first time feature filmmaker who has made a very confident film. We’ve talked about how there is a whole lot more going on in this film than there appears on the surface. I think this is going to be one of those experiences at the film festival where not knowing anything will really catch people off guard. All bets are off, there are no sets of expectations, and we don’t know anything about the director other than he was in a popular rock band. There’s no baggage with this film, and it’s just about going camping when you’re young and how you can hear rustling in the woods and you’re trying to process what that is. It’s smart. It’s going to pop some skulls.
DS: Finally I want to talk about Electric Boogaloo: The Untold Story of Cannon Films, and talk about Cannon Films because this is a documentary that a lot of genre buffs have been waiting for. You’re a genre guy, so what does Cannon Films mean to you as a genre buff?
CG: My two favourite Cannon Films, and this shows their whole spectrum, are Lifeforce and Runaway Train. I actually saw a long edit of this that still doesn’t have all of its completed animation yet, which if you know from Mark Hartley’s previous docs, that they really pop. But the story of Cannon is definitely there, and we were going back in forth as to whether or not we put this in TIFF Docs or Midnight Madness, but when you see it, you’ll know that the Midnight Madness crowd is going to dig this. Without Cannon Films we wouldn’t have movies like Die Hard or this year’s Big Game. Genre fans in the know owe a ton to Cannon Films and they’ll love this one.