Colin Geddes is the International Programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival. Part of his job is selecting films for the Midnight Madness portion of the festival and updating the Midnight Madness Twitter account. If you made a horror, kung fu or just plain weird movie in the last 13 years, chances are you sent it to
Colin and prayed that he liked it. We had a chance to talk to this extremely busy and influential man before the start of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.
I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to have your job. How did you end up where you are today?
It’s not a path I set out to pursue. I moved from outside Kingston to Toronto for college; I went to school for graphic design. I made the mistake of, on the first week of school, standing in line for the very first year of Midnight Madness. That was back in 1988 and every year I saw more and more films at the festival. At the end of university I started to publish a Xeroxed fanzine which specialized in interviews and reviews of Hong Kong films—this was before John Woo and Jackie Chan had entered the North American lexicon. As a result of doing that, I caught the attention of the film festival, as I was documenting an area of world cinema that no one else was paying attention to. I ended up getting a press pass and made myself known on the festival scene as someone who knew and was passionate about world cinema. In 1997, I was asked to be a co-programmer of Midnight Madness. And then the following year I was given the program. I literally fell into it. I had no idea that standing in line for Hellraiser 2 in 1988 would somehow land me this job.
How do you go about selecting films for Midnight Madness?
It starts as soon as the film festival is over. The process of tracking and hunting films is ongoing. There’s already a number of films that I am aware of that are in pre-production now that are going to be ready for me to watch after the festival. For Midnight Madness, I’m looking for fun, exciting films that are usually not part of festival sensibilities. Many people are daunted by the nature of the Toronto International Film Festival: it’s Hollywood or high-art cinema and people don’t know how to access that. Midnight Madness is where all these worlds collide. It’s fun, silly, gory, action-packed cinema. I look for a film that is going to keep the audience’s attention for the next two hours at midnight. I might do that with a horror film, a thriller, a black comedy or a documentary about some strange and peculiar subject. The misconception is that it’s all horror. We had the world premiere of Borat. So it’s stuff that’s really off the wall.
Tell me about that Borat premiere.
It was crazy. It was the hottest ticket of the film festival. For the red carpet, Borat made an appearance in a donkey cart, but the donkey was in the cart and it was being drawn by his sisters. Sasha Baron Cohen came on stage, gave me a kiss on both cheeks then grabbed my balls. It was a very important diplomatic occasion, of course. The film starts and 20 minutes into the screening, the projector breaks. Everything hit the fan at that point. Michael Moore was in the audience and hopped on stage to do an impromptu Q&A. I’m in the lobby being screamed at by all the executives from the studio. It was horrible. There was no way to repair the projector. I was able to save the day by doing a Q&A. Borat threatened to lynch me and demanded one of my testicles. It was an overnight sensation.
What are some other films of note that have had their first screening at Midnight Madness? It’s been a jumping off point for a lot of new genres and filmmakers.
Piranha 3D’s director Alex Aja got his start at Midnight Madness with his horror film High Tension. Eli Roth got his start with Cabin Fever and Hostel. No one had heard of Eli Roth then. Peter Jackson got his start at Midnight Madness with Dead Alive. Ong Bak starring Tony Jaa, that launched the career of Thailand’s first international superstar.
Is there a movie you see as being the quintessential Midnight Madness films?
I’d say Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. It’s a splatstick zombie comedy. It’s so outrageous and so much fun.
What’s a movie you’ve programmed for Midnight Madness that you feel has been criminally overlooked?
It’s a film called Heaven that was directed by Scott Reynolds. It was picked up by Miramax then dumped on video. They tried to make it look like an erotic thriller but it’s a really smart, sharp film. I’ll find the DVD in discount bins for $4 at Blockbuster and buy it for friends for Christmas. It’s about a clairvoyant, transvestite stripper.
Is there any movie you’ve overlooked and, in hindsight, regret not screening?
Oh yeah, The Ring. I’d liked it but felt that it was too culturally specific. Then last year I passed on Paranormal Activity. I don’t have any regret over that. It’s not a film that excited me. This is the secret of the film. You’re in a room right now? When you’re off the phone with me, stare at a door for 90 minutes. Something’s gonna happen! Any minute now! The couple are boring and their dialogue is so banal and empty. It didn’t work for me.
this interview was published in ion magazine on october 2010