When you think of the TIFF Bell Lightbox – the gleaming $196-million, five-storey paean to art-house cinema that's plunked in the middle of downtown Toronto – you likely don't picture rivers of blood, bifurcated bodies, vengeance-seeking vampires, crazed yakuzas or grizzled bounty hunters. But those extreme images will soon be projected onto the Lightbox's state-of-the-art screens, thanks to cult-film mastermind Colin Geddes.
Starting this Saturday night, Geddes brings his new monthly screening series KinoVortex, an "international array of gonzo cinema," to the Lightbox, a space more closely associated with the high-brow work of Godard or Melville. Things kick off with a 4K restoration of 2001's Ichi the Killer, a deliriously gory crime thriller from Japanese madman Takashi Miike, with subsequent evenings diving into other little-screened genre corners, including horror (the Toronto premiere of 2017's Mon Mon Mon Monsters, from Taiwanese director Giddens Ko) and spaghetti westerns (a 4K restoration of Sergio Corbucci's transgressive 1968 epic The Great Silence).
The series marks both a shift and a homecoming for TIFF. On the latter front, KinoVortex – "I like messing around with these compound words, so I think it represents both the high art and the low art," Geddes says of the name – is Geddes's return to TIFF after having spent two decades programming the organization's wildly popular Midnight Madness program for the annual September film festival, as well as the Vanguard program, which was axed after the fest's 2016 edition.
"I've always wanted to do some kind of carte-blanche series. There are a lot of cult films, both old and new, that don't get screen time in Toronto," says Geddes, who left Midnight Madness in the hands of his former programming associate Peter Kuplowsky last year while he concentrated on consulting for horror streaming service Shudder and producing films alongside partner Katarina Gligorijevic for Ultra 8 Pictures, the pair's production company.
Last summer, though, Geddes pitched TIFF's year-round programming staff on a 25th-anniversary screening of John Woo's action classic Hard Boiled. An expert in sourcing obscure prints and drawing curious crowds from back in his days programming the Royal Cinema's now-defunct "Kung Fu Fridays" in Toronto, Geddes found a 35mm copy of Woo's film, and an 11 p.m. Saturday-night Lightbox screening quickly sold out.
"There's an appetite for this material, and this proved we could take the Midnight Madness spirit and have it all year round," says Geddes. "These are the films I want to see on the big screen, the ones I want to share. It's kind of self-serving, sure, but at the same time that's what I've always done. I'd share these films myself, but my television is only so big, my couch can only fit so many people and I don't want to clean up the popcorn. But give me a cinema, and let's see what we can do."
To its credit, TIFF did exactly that – a move that's indicative of the Lightbox's increasing bid for eclectic programming. In addition to KinoVortex, TIFF has recently welcomed the ongoing MDFF screening series from local filmmakers Daniel Montgomery and Kazik Radwanski (focusing on emerging international and Canadian filmmakers whose work would otherwise bypass Toronto entirely), a silent-film series from Alicia Fletcher (whose Silent Revue programs play the Revue Cinema across town) and an upcoming Agnès Varda retrospective produced in partnership with the feminist film journal cléo.
"We've been running the Cinematheque for 25 years, and it's strong in that core traditional sense, but you have to keep evolving and thinking about what the role of a cinematheque is today," says Brad Deane, senior manager for TIFF Cinematheque and an architect of the Lightbox's year-round programming. "We're not just old French, Italian and Russian films. Genre films are part of that equation now, too."
Yet the new programs do not limit themselves to merely film screenings. KinoVortex, for instance, will include a preshow of specially curated clips and trailers courtesy of Geddes's personal vault of "random nonsense," as well as merchandise giveaways and talks. "It's going to be an expanded experience; it's never just about going to see a film, but an evening you're not able to get at a multiplex," Geddes says.
In that sense, KinoVortex (tag line: "This. Is. Something. Different.") fits nicely within the organization's push for what it calls "transformative experiences through film" – a major plank of
TIFF's new five-year strategic plan aimed at navigating the exhibition industry's choppy waters.
"It's all about the audience experience, ultimately. We've shown some genre work in the past; maybe it was presented in a colder way, and the audience doesn't respond to that," says Deane. "But when I went to Kung Fu Fridays, I responded to it. Colin would give out free bags of 'blood.' Obviously, we're not going to do that with a Brakhage screening. It's about walking in and having an experience, and we talk all the time here about better tailoring that experience for our audience."
For Saturday's screening of Ichi the Killer, that experience may or may not involve one of Geddes's most infamous Midnight Madness tricks: handing out limited-edition "distress bags" for those who might have felt nauseous during Ichi's TIFF premiere in 2001 (Geddes has about a dozen of the souvenirs tucked away at home).
"We're figuring out what to do with that, maybe limited-edition popcorn bags," says Geddes. A transformative experience, indeed.
KinoVortex opens with a screening of Ichi the Killer on Feb. 3 at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox (tiff.net).