Director Jason Banker blogs for FEARnet about his experiences at Fantasia Fest 2012. In part two, Jason describes the first time he watched the film with an audience.
Toad Road has been has been a really long journey for me so as the lights went down in the theatre I was surprised at how calm I felt in that moment. Our screening was completely sold out and it was great to see people trying to get a seat as the film was actually starting.
Toad Road is such a hybrid film that leading up to the screening I was worried about how the merging of documentary and fiction would take with an audience. In the end, people got into the movie really quickly It was great to see that people followed the film through shifting styles and an unconventional narrative. I could feel the audience going on the ride with us. They laughed at all the right moments and were silent when the tension built. The big takeaway for me was that the storytelling worked.
The HD cam copy looked great in the theatre. The film looked better than I had ever seen it. There was a visceral effect on the big screen that does not come through on the small screen. It felt so charged – it is definitely an experience that you need to have in the theatre.
Most of the audience hung around for the Q and A and by the time we walked out of the theatre I knew that we had something special on our hands that audiences would support and understand. I could tell that it was really well received and that people were engaged and curious. The audience was able to read the nuances of what I wanted to show or tell. In my mind so much of this was still an experiment – both narrative and visually. So, watching people ‘get it’ and seeing them understand it in a unique way is a whole new level of discovery for me.
I think the combination of the Fantasia Festival and the city of Montreal really did great things for the launch of this film. There is a liberal lifestyle in this city and a population that is open to abandon or decadence. We can all identify with being reckless or not being reckless (but being faced with the choice). Our audience connected with this feeling in the movie. I’m sure that the Q and A and the entire experience might have different in another city so it’s a blessing to have had my worldwide premiere in Montreal at Fantasia.
The initial write up from Simon Laperriere was the first positive sign for me that people outside the core team understood the film. Then, there was the audience in the theatre. And now, in the hours after the screening we are getting our first reviews. What’s great about the reviews is that they are not treating Toad Road like a typical horror film. The reviews are embracing all these other elements of the film – the dread, the disturbing nature of being a reckless teen, suburban anomie – they are getting the idea that this is about youth culture – and life horror. They are hitting all the points that I think matter. It’s a very positive response.
The ambiguity of the genre for me has always been both the beauty and the curse. But to know that audiences are being affected by this kind of storytelling and to learn that there is an appetite for these kinds of films, not just in cinephile circles, re-inspires me to get back to work.
I have a couple other projects that fall along the documentary/fiction narrative lines and the fact that this film worked gives me greater confidence that the other projects I’m working on will find a broader audience. There is a specific aesthetic that I am pursuing and in many ways it is an artifact or a time capsule. It’s great to know that people understand that and are willing to give in to the journey instead of wanting to only observe it’s happenings from the outside.
For now though, the pressure is off and I’m going to go watch some movies.