Toronto 2011: Midnight Madness Sidebar Going Back to Unearthing Gems

After including the Megan Fox's higher-profile "Jennifer's Body" in its lineup two years ago, programmer Colin Geddes declared this "the year of discovery."
"The Raid"

When The Raid, an action film from Indonesia, opened this year’s edition of the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness sidebar Thursday night, there wasn’t an army of paparazzi laying in wait for the movie’s cast of unknown actors.

That was a stark contrast to the same setting two years ago when Jennifer’s Body kicked off the sidebar and epilepsy-inducing flashes went off as Megan Fox and the rest of the cast walked the red carpet outside the Ryerson Theatre.

This year, the scene outside the theater may have lacked glitz and pizzazz. Its stars didn’t speak English, and it centers around the relatively obscure – at least by Western standards – martial art of silat. But once the movie started screening, the excited audience was jazzed. The midnight moviegoers cheered wildly and left the theater tweeting about what an incredible film they had just unearthed.

And that’s just what TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes wanted to hear. “This is the year of discovery,” he explains.

Compared to the last few years, when Midnight Madness jumped up to higher level of star power, the 2011 edition isn’t using the lure of big celebrities or name directors to draw the lookey-loos and the curious media. But that doesn’t mean the movies are not being as intensely scrutinized as ever.

The sidebar has been the focus of acquisitions executives’ attention ever since Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever caused a bidding war in 2002, with Lionsgate shelling out $3.5 million, the biggest price tag at that year’s festival. Last year, FilmDistrict discovered the $1.5 million-budgeted horror movie Insidious on the same program. Released in April, the movie went on to gross $54 million domestically, $92 million worldwide. With returns like that, buyers and agents are planning to burn the midnight oil, scouting the next breakout at the late-night sidebar.

This year, nine of the 10 movies on the program will be world premieres, and buyers will be checking out every single one that doesn’t have distribution in place.

That includes Saturday night’s You’re Next. The CAA-repped movie can boast DNA threads from several previous Midnight Madness entrants: Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard also wrote and directed last year’s A Horrible Way to Die, and Snoot, the production company that partnered with Hanway Films on the picture, also had a hand in last year’s Bunraku and 2006’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. Those credentials have contributed to the movie’s buzz.

But don’t discount other titles, such as Lovely Molly, which screens Wednesday and is directed by Blair Witch Project co-helmer Eduardo Sanchez, and the black comedy God Bless America from Bobcat Goldthwait, who last year was frequently seen on the scene as a regular Madness audience member, helping himself to pizza while waiting for a movie to begin.

Eager to get a jump on the competition, some Hollywood players have tried to get TIFF’s Geddes to give them early peaks. But he continues to resist that idea. “We want to make people see the movies at midnight,” he says.

Nate Bolotin of XYZ Films, the company behind Raid, agrees that debuting a film at a successful Midnight Madness screening, with its unique mix of industry players and film-friendly locals, is something that other genre festivals can’t provide.

“As a producer and a sales agent, making movies at a time where genres films continue to work, having a Midnight Madness presence is crucial," he says.

In fact, his company scheduled Raid’s shooting and post-production schedules, so it would be ready on time to be eligible to play the Toronto sidebar.

“We’re already strategizing what we can have next year,” he adds.

As an action movie, Raid’s appearance at the beginning of this year’s line-up also illustrates one other aspect of the evolving Midnight Madness program: It might have once had a reputation for housing nothing but the festival’s horror movies, but it’s clearly evolved to embrace other genres as well.

“I fight the misconception that it’s just about horror,” Geddes says. “It’s wild cinema from around the world. It’s an overview of what’s out there right now.”