Midnight screenings of scary movies have become a staple at film festivals around the world, but the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness series is the granddaddy of late night genre programs. Started in 1988, the 10-film series has become one of the most popular attractions at TIFF, frequently selling out its 1,200 seat theater.
Some of the high profile world premieres at this year’s fest include “Blair Witch,” the surprise sequel to 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project,” from director Adam Wingard (“The Guest”) and the opening night film “Free Fire,” a crime-drama starring Brie Larson and directed by Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”). Wingard and Wheatley are both Midnight Madness alumni, but this year’s Midnight slate also includes program newcomers like Greg McLean, whose action-horror film “The Belko Experiment” was written by “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, and first-time feature writer-director Julia Ducournau’s debut “Raw,” a French horror film about a cannibalistic teenager.
“It’s very rare that you get a Midnight Madness film from a female director,” TIFF International programmer and Toronto native Colin Geddes told IndieWire in a recent interview. One of the misconceptions about Midnight Madness, which Geddes has been programming for more than 20 years, is that the series is all about horror. This year’s lineup also includes Paul Schrader’s crime thriller “Dog Eat Dog,” starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe, and Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Rats,” about the world’s most infamous parasite.
“There’s literally something for everyone,” Geddes said.
Part of what keeps cinephiles from all over the globe coming to TIFF’s Midnight Madness year in and year out is the program’s reputation for uncovering breakout talent. “When we had the world premiere of ‘Cabin Fever,’ no one knew who Eli Roth was,” Geddes said, adding that his selection process comes down only to the quality of the movies, and not whether films have established stars. “I never kow-tow to picking films for sales or for the red carpet.”
One of the challenges of programming a late-night lineup is finding truly gripping content that is also high-quality cinema. “I have to pick films that are going to grab the audience’s attention at midnight and keep them engaged and on the edge of their seat for the next 90 minutes or two hours,” Geddes said. While the midnight audience is always rowdy, it’s also comprised of cinema devotees who will stick around after the screening for director Q&As.
“This is a serious die-hard cinephile audience,” Geddes said. “If you speak during a film, you will be shamed.” Though the crowd includes viewers from around the world, it’s also heavily weighted with Toronto locals who take the film selections very seriously. How seriously?
“I’ve had bad service at a restaurant because someone didn’t like a film I picked, and I’ve had good service at a restaurant because of a film that I’ve picked,” Geddes said. “I’m totally accountable to the local audience.”