My first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was a Japanese-cyberpunk film called Tetsuo: The Iron Man. It was 1990, and the movie was part of the Midnight Madness program.
Midnight Madness films, as the name suggest, are screened at midnight. These are the chillers, thrillers, sci-fi and hyperbolic martial art films. I’ve often said that the audience at these screenings is just as interesting as the films. The gatherings boast people of all constructs, multi-coloured hair, human pincushions, and tattoos that denote fan appreciation in a permanent way.
Excitement for these films is intense. The conversations in the lineups are always so focused and passionate. It was clear to me back then that this was not the average film-going crowd. The following year I purchased a 30-ticket voucher and booked a week’s vacation.
It didn’t take long for my passion for this festival to transfer to my wife. Sadly, this now meant I had to be more democratic about the movie selections. It could no longer be all horror and sci-fi; it was now to include films about coming of age, romantic period pieces and avant-garde French relationship films. To me these are also horror movies.
Over the years, we developed rules for selecting films. No American or Canadian films allowed. We would see these films throughout the year anyway. We aren’t allowed to select films based on celebrity – although my wife did sneak a Brad Pitt movie in on me one year!
We also try hard to see films from as many different countries as possible. With these rules in mind, we make our selections separately. Our film section process is “democratic.” That is, until we get to the negotiation stage.
Once we’ve each selected our films, we check for matches. These are automatically added to our final selection list. Now the bargaining starts. Keep in mind we are picking these films before the release of the schedule. So we double up on our selections, accounting for this variable.
We add to the final list going turnabout, each time pleading our case for our film choice. Of course, I have prepared a wonderful dinner and a good bottle of wine is breathing. My wife doesn’t drink very much, so a sip of red wine is very helpful during negotiations.
For the first 15 years of TIFF, we would both book off work and our movie selection was upwards of 30 or more movies. But now we are down to about 10. It’s more manageable and we have time to absorb the films we experience.
As I write this, we are in our 24th year of this festival. My wife has knocked the popcorn out of Sean Penn’s hands; I had no fire for Johnny Depp’s cigarette when he asked me; I shared a joke with Michael Caine about his role as Austin Powers’ dad. And the intense film conversations that occurred in the lineups have now shifted more over to Twitter and Facebook.
Yet at every festival, I see films that inspire me creatively, make me want to visit places I’ve never been to, and do things I’ve never done. I get to see the world through the eyes of a child, with wonderment. Will I be back for year 25? HELL YA!