Festival Daily

By Neil Karassik

For 10 consecutive late nights, the Festival’s revered Midnight Madness programme packs the theatre with ravenous cult cinema fans, all salivating for their annual fix of chills, thrills and arterial blood spills. The programme, which has been around for more than 20 years, is much more than an excuse to catch some after-dark mayhem.

Over the past decade, Colin Geddes – who was just a fan when Noah Cowan co-founded the programme in 1989 – has created something truly special that fans of all genres cherish each year. When selecting films for his programme, Geddes has a simple theory: deliver a “fresh jolt” to audiences that have likely just come from two or three prior screenings.

Feeling a sense of kinship toward his devotees, Geddes is aware that he is doing it for the fans, and would never want to give them anything less than perturbed perfection. This is not to say that Midnight Madness only caters to one flavour of cinema. Geddes’s films do not serve any exclusive target audience, so long as you check your film snobbery at the door and prepare yourself for a heavy dose of unpretentious fun.

Geddes maintains that Midnight Madness has moved a little out of the shadows of the underground, just off to the far left of mainstream. He further illuminates this theory with the example of filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, who made his Midnight Madness debut in 2000 with The Foul King. His Korean kimchi western, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, is now playing as a high-profile Gala at this year’s Festival.

When asked about his fondest memories of the programme, Geddes recalls a screening of Fudoh: The Next Generation during his first year as programmer. “This was the first time that Takashi Miike had come to the Festival, and Toronto immediately took a shine to him.” Furthermore, this screening spawned a lasting friendship between Geddes and Miike, who is one of the only Midnight Madness filmmakers to have met the programmer’s parents.

Another memorable moment: when Geddes screened Ong Bak in 2003, it looked like director Prachya Pinkaew was not going to make the screening due to the paperwork required to obtain a travel visa from Thailand. But Pinkaew unexpectedly arrived in a cab from the airport an hour before the premiere, and had to rush to a dollar store across the street from the Uptown Theatre to get clean T-shirts for himself and wife. Two hours later, the film received a standing ovation from the 900-strong audience.

This year, Geddes couldn’t be more excited to catch Pinkaew’s latest film, Chocolate, which screens on September 13. Speaking to some of the Midnight minions who have been participating in the witching-hour festivities since its inception, it is evident that everyone is psyched to relieve the enthusiastic insanity that surrounded the premiere of Ong Bak.

And if Chocolate isn’t enough to fill the action void, there’s always JCVD, the highly anticipated revival of Jean-Claude Van Damme – who appears in all his dramatic drop-kickin’ glory.

Geddes is also looking forward to Deadgirl, which he believes “will announce a fresh new talent with the introduction of directors Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento.” Of equal interest, Acolytes marks the fourth film by Australian director Jon Hewitt, who Geddes feels “will finally break from down under.” And if visuals are your thing, Eden Log promises to excite the senses with its dazzling manga- and video game-inspired imagery.

Finally there is Martyrs, expected to shock even the most jaded with its sheer, unabashed depiction of depravity. As Geddes says in this year’s programme book, “I am sure that some people are going to take me to task for screening this film, but I am also looking forward to the level of thoughtful and smart discussion that will come from the audience.”

“This year there is something for everyone,” he says. “Comedy and metal music in Detroit Metal City; cowboys and monsters in The Burrowers; a fashion-obsessed serial killer in Sexykiller; and a potpourri of exploitation thrills in Not Quite Hollywood, the documentary on ‘Ozploitation.’”

To fully capture the electric energy of Midnight Madness, look no further than the passionately animated fans. Coming all the way from Richmond, Virginia, since 2001, medical engineer Sanjay Rajput has never missed a single screening. “Once you come to the T-Dot for the Festival and its Midnight Madness programme, there is no point of going elsewhere,” he says.

Likewise, Fiona “Polly Esther” Newman has been coming to the Festival since 1990, and sees at least half of the movies each year. By day she works for Zip.ca and by night she beats people with pillows (see: the Pillow Fight League). She’s known Colin since 1992 and commends him for being a “regular Joe” with a genuine affection for what he does.

Both filmgoers praise the fact that Midnight Madness has the distinct ability to bring kick-ass films from around the world to a community of fans from many different backgrounds. How’s that for a subversive way of schooling people in offbeat contemporary genre cinema? The hour may grow late, but the crowd will be wide awake.
Nicely put Neil. One of the best programmes at TIFF and one which helps it stand out from other fests around the world. I'll be in attendance tonight for JCVD, which promises to be a party!
Comment By Yaron Blanc At 04/09/2021 10:44 AM
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