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We Talked To TIFF’s New Midnight Madness Programmer About 2017’s Bonkers Lineup

TIFF

Former Midnight Madness impresario Colin Geddes left a genuine legacy to live up to when his 20-year tenure with the Toronto International Film Festival ended earlier this year. Geddes’ role would be a tough one to fill for just about anyone, but for his long-time assistant Peter Kuplowsky, it was a natural next step.

As the new Midnight Madness programmer, Kuplowsky has been put in charge of lining up a collection of stellar genre movies for the program’s demanding and discerning audience. “He’s tracked down 10 films that preserve the section’s legendary kick-out-the-jams approach,” says TIFF’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, “while still putting his own ruthless stamp on it.”

We spoke with Kuplowsky about the upcoming onslaught of terror, gore, and random entertaining weirdness that will be 2017’s Midnight Madness. Here’s what he had to tell us about his inaugural program:

It’s your first time programming Midnight Madness, but you’ve worked alongside previous programmer Colin Geddes for years. The program has a very dedicated fanbase with high expectations. How does it feel being the guy responsible for meeting (or exceeding) them?

As a fan, I’ve always seen Midnight Madness as a bit of a “state of the union” for genre cinema. It’s 10 films that run the gamut of of aesthetics and sensibilities, from horror to action, from comedy to the more dramatic, and from all over the world. I’ve tried very much to make this year’s lineup representative of all the different kinds of genre films there are out there right now, while also affording room for films that expand the definition of genre cinema through their formal or stylistic experimentation. I am happy with the lineup I’ve arrived at, but it was not easy, and I definitely felt a lot of pressure to meet the expectations of the audience and the Industry that attend.

It’s up to the audience to decide whether those expectations have been met, but I set those same expectations up for for myself while curating the lineup. I can say with confidence that I’ve at least met my internal expectations and I am excited to watch all 10 of them at Midnight with the audience.

While it’s of course part of TIFF, Midnight Madness almost feels like it’s own distinct festival—both through the programming and the crowds the films attract. What makes the Midnight audience special?

I love watching in TIFF’s Midnight Madness audience because it takes me through so many emotional states. Before the movie starts, the atmosphere is that of a rock-concert, with beach-balls bouncing around the room, and then when the festival sponsor cards start to appear, the crowd begins to focus by engaging in collective games. They rhythmically clap or engage in Rocky Horror-esque call-and-response patterns to the advertisements, and the whole reveries is incredibly infectious and fun. And then the movie starts and the audience snaps to attention, ready to be led to where ever the movie whisks them to. There’s laughing, cheering, and vocalized shrieks, but it always seems to be in perfect harmony with the film. There’s an alchemy between film and audience in that room, that I find myself chasing all year in multiplexes, but never really finding again until September. The only other equivalent audience I’ve experienced is at Montreal’s Fantasia Fest.

I know you can’t pick favourites among the films you’ve chosen for the program, so I’ll ask this instead: which film (or films) are you most interested in seeing the audience’s reaction to?

I’m breaking tradition and starting Brawl in Cell Block 99 before Midnight this year, and it’s largely to engineer a reaction that I can’t wait to observe. The film begins as a rather conventional and sober crime drama, but slowly escalates into something a lot more surreal and nightmarish. I actually timed it out, so that minute the film enters “Midnight Madness” territory, it’ll literally be midnight. I’m very curious to see and hear how the audience reacts to the film’s deliberate build to its subsequent bloody and brutal conclusion. I think there will be an eerie concentrated silence from them for awhile, but I’ll eat my hat if the final images doesn’t provoke a sea of expletives and applause.

I am also really looking forward to Ryuhei Kitamura playing the audience like the theremin that pervades the score of his splatter flick Downrange. It’s a minimalist horror flick cut from a slasher mold, and it has so much gleeful macabre fun in teasing its kills, and delivering ridiculous, but impactful gore-gags. I’m confident the audience will join its wavelength and conjure an infectious and riotous atmosphere!

Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge will also elicit some interesting sounds from the squeamish, particularly once the heroine’s vengeance gets underway.

There’s the misconception that Midnight is solely for horror fans. What non-nightmare-inducing films can slightly more squeamish audience members check out this year?

Two of the biggest films in the program this year are The Disaster Artist and Bodied. The first is, of course, the much anticipated adaptation of the best-selling book about the making of The Room, and it absolutely lives up to the hype it’s been accruing since a work-in-progress cut sneaked at SXSW last March. James Franco and Dave Franco genuinely disappear into the roles of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero respectively, and the result is both sympathetic and hilarious. There hasn’t been a veneration of a Z-grade auteur this funny and endearing since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. It taps into a very real frustration that artists have in trying to communicate their vision and I think anyone who has ever tried to create any kind of art will walk way identifying just a little bit with Tommy’s passion. It’s a total crowd-pleaser

Bodied may be a bit more polarizing, but just as electric a screening. Written by Toronto battle-rapper Kid Twist (aka Alex Larsen) and directed by acclaimed music video auteur Joseph Kahn (Detention), the film is a bold and biting satire that uses the battle-rap scene of Oakland, California to engage in a myriad of contemporary cultural conversations, particularly with regards to race. It’s funny, fearless, and very provocative, but I think productively so. While it indulges in battle-rap’s proclivity to offend and break taboos, it’s also self-critical, and its form encourages the audience to confront hard questions, and to assume their own critical stance, with regards to the themes the film unpacks.

On second thought, both movies have enough uncomfortable cringe-comedy moments that they might actually constitute as nightmares for some—the squeamish might be outta luck this year!

One of my favourite Midnight experiences was the bonkers 2015 screening of The Chickening. Do you have an experience that really stands out in your own history with the program, either as a fan or from working behind the scenes?

It’s funny you mention The Chickening, an outrageous short film that preceded the North American premiere of Green Room, because I’ve curated a short film for the 2017 lineup as well and it’s a fever-dream doozy! It’s called Great Choice, and it’s about Red Lobster commercials and it’s a hysterical nightmare! It’ll be preceding the WORLD PREMIERE of Mom + Dad, starring Nic Cage and Selma Blair!

But as far as my favourite experience with the program… As a fan, it was probably losing my Midnight Madness virginity to SPL: Kill Zone in 2005. I was so impressed by the film, its presentation, the audience’s enthusiasm, and that the great Sammo Hung was actually on stage—it was an overwhelming and seminal experience for me.

As Colin’s assistant, I will never forget putting on the frog suit from Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse and participating in the Q&A; that was too much fun, and it kind of started a trend of “characters” showing up for Midnight Q&As (J-Ghouls Sadako and Kayako showed up for last year’s closing night film). Another memorable Q&A was with Jemaine Clement for What We Do in the Shadows. He decided to pretend the film was a legit documentary, and I was all too happy to play along, shooting down any questions that inferred otherwise.

 

The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 7 to 17. You can check out the full lineup here. See you at midnight.

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