TIFF’s Late Night Programmer Doesn’t Want You to Faint This Year

Midnight Madness curator Peter Kuplowsky tells us how to survive the festival’s notorious late night gorefest.

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Aug 30 2018, 8:11pm

Climax and Halloween are two films set to debut at TIFF's Midnight Madness. | Images via YouTube.

A-list celebrities, glamorous parties and red carpets—you’ll find none of that at TIFF’s late night lineup. This Midnight Madness folks, the anti-space for the movie watcher with a preference for darkened theatres and slowly chewed popcorn. And the space where people will faint, as the current curator Peter Kuplowsky chooses to remind me. “In the last few years we’ve had people faint or go into a seizure attack,” he told VICE. “A lot of people think these are marketing ploys but they really aren’t.”

This is the wild kind of thing audiences have expected over the years from the less pretentious side of the festival’s programming. It’s here where TIFF’s most energized crowd gathers to watch the best in the weird and surreal. And it’s here where it’s completely normal to smell whiffs of reefer in the air while spotting a beach ball floating above the crowd. Since it was taken over by programmer Colin Geddes 20 years ago, the event has built its reputation celebrating the most non-mainstream in film.

With the likes of Predator, Halloween, and Gaspar Noé’s Climax among others making it to this year’s lineup, that tradition of creating a stir has no intention of slowing down. I had a chance to talk with the young curator entering his second year with the festival about what we should expect, his ideas about diversity, and his very valuable advice for the future fainters attending his show.

VICE: So this is going to be your second year with TIFF’s Midnight Madness, how would you describe that first year?
Peter Kuplowsky: I definitely remember being super nervous my first night, especially because I chose a battle rap movie to fill in the section, which is definitely not known for playing this sort of movie. My argument was that the section actually does have open films like that, it’s the section that played Dazed and Confused, and it was a section going way back in the beginning that included music documentaries as well. So it’s never been a space for exclusively horror, it’s been a space for subversion, alternative culture and anything that feels remotely transgressive. That’s something that was so important for me to emphasize, because that’s always been my interest in film. The weird, unpredictable and the bizarre.

So how would you describe a film that that’s uniquely unpredictable, especially within such a classic genre like horror?
Well the worst thing a genre film can be is generic. The ones that really hit go for something distinct from the others in the cycle. Those are the films that launch the next film, the next cycle in a genre. An obvious example is Get Out. It’s a film that’s super familiar. So much of what it’s doing we’ve seen before but it’s doing it through a distinct lens and voice. Revenge, which I played at Midnight Madness last year, and I’m so so happy it had a successful run throughout the year, was another case in the rape revenge genre that’s been done so many times, afforded the opportunity for a woman to tell that story, and it suddenly made the genre way more interesting. I think we’re set to see way more of that because people are feeling galvanized and empowered to showcase their unique viewpoints of the world.

So let’s get to your mindset going into TIFF ‘18, what was the goal?
To avoid serving the same meal every night. Colin Geddes, the previous curator taught me that. You want to make sure you’re not playing 10 horror films or 10 martial arts films for that matter. So a big part of was knowing what to build from the start. One of the issues I had at the beginning of the year was asking myself what my 2018 version of The Disaster Artist would be, or The Body and Brawl In The Cell Block 99. That was the absolute wrong idea. There’s only one Joseph Khan in the world and he didn’t even make another movie this year, so I can’t think that way.

And I see that you guys got Halloween .
Yeah Halloween was always the goal. I was so intrigued with what they were doing, and then when I saw that Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley were writing it, and I was immediately like, this is too interesting, because it’s being written by a comedian who wasn’t trying to write a horror comedy, but a straight horror. Since seeing it, I hope there’s going to be a more concentrated movement in employing comedians that can write horror because they’re so good at it. I’ve said this multiple times, but the horror scare is like a comedy punchline. Comedians just understand the stakes of selling those moments and halloween knocks it out of the park. It was all a combination of the high profile with the films that film buffs like myself and others can get excited about.

I remember last year, Brawl in the Cell Block 99 felt like an absolute surprise. Who knew Vince Vaughn could throw it down. What films would you say have that same sorta vibe?
Honestly, I actually think Halloween (2018) is going to surprise people in terms of how long the stretches of tension are. One thing that the original film did so well was use the absence of sound. The fact is that the movie didn’t have a sophisticated mix. It was just footsteps and heavy breathing. Sure, Halloween has an amazing soundtrack by the master himself, John Carpenter, but it was also a movie that was confident enough to be like, yeah OK, we’re going to let the silence just play out and let you guys wait for something to happen. That really impressed me. There’s gonna be a ton of great noises in the audience for that one (laughs). And Climax is another one that people think they’re ready for, and as it goes on, some audiences are going to find it really upsetting. But it’s Gasper Noé , you kinda have to expect that reaction.

As a curator, how do you factor in the inclusion of representation as far as women and people of colour?
Representation is something that weighs in on me the entire time during the selection process. I don’t ever apply a quota system to myself because I always want to continue to focus on the merits of the movies first. But at the same time what I do is not let myself forget what the statistics are. I have this spreadsheet that I constantly refer to so that I can track how many films by either women or people of colour I’ve seen. Half way through it, I’ll feel like it’s pretty low and it’ll put me in the frame of mind to start seeking out a more diverse set of films. Especially in the case with female directors. This year I went out and began searching, literally going to IMDB in the post production section, and if it was by a woman, I made sure I viewed it so that I could consider them in future lineups. I was at a film market and I did observe that almost every agent and distributor had a female driven film under their slate. A lot of them weren’t ready for this year, but I look forward to a palpable wave of female directed films next year.

OK, Midnight Madness is unlike any other part of TIFF. I’d personally say it’s the least pretentious. Assuming someone’s completely new to this whole thing. What are your survival tips for making the most out of the experience?
Well number one, definitely don’t lose hope if a film is sold out. Rush lines are your friend, and you will make friends in that rush line (laughs), friends that will last you the entire festival. Two, if you’re going to Midnight Madness, you definitely want to see one of the buzzier films, not just for the film’s sake, but for the audience sake. Come see Halloween or Predator or something like Climax where I think they’ll be drawing in huge audiences. You always want to be in that wall of noise that’ll come at the screen. Also, just go wild before the movie starts but be quiet when the movie starts. That’s the great thing about a Midnight Madness audience, it feels like a 42nd street audience. There’s five minutes of craziness and then they just shut up (laughs). Bring a beach ball before the movie starts, don’t bring a blow horn because that actually has happened one year (laughs). Nobody thinks you’re cool.

And please, stay hydrated. To be honest, in the last few years we’ve had people faint or go into a seizure attack. A lot of people think these are marketing ploys but they actually aren’t. It’s not always necessarily because of the movie either. During Raw, we had someone have a seizure, we had multiple people faint during Revenge. I’m not entirely convinced it’s ever the movie (laughs), I’m convinced that people just watched four movies and now it’s their fifth and they haven’t drank any water all day. Stay hydrated folks.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16. For more info on the year’s programming, visit the official website.

Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.

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