After four plus hours of waiting in the bitter-cold, surrounded by protesters affiliated with the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church (along with a pretty impressive counter-protest by students of Park City High School and Kevin Smith supporters), we were finally lead into the Eccles Theater for the Sundance Premiere of Smith’s new film, Red State (spoiler-free mini review below). The audience seemed to react well to the film, but in classic Kevin Smith fashion, it was the Q&A following the film that will likely go down as the historic Sundance story.
Following the screening, Smith walked out on stage with Wayne Gretzky’s hockey stick across his shoulders and explained how Walter Gretzky’s motto of being “not where the puck is but where it will be,” has directed the last two years of his life. Smith had announced previously that, after the screening, he would be auctioning off Red State, a film about the horrors perpetrated by a small town preacher and his obsessed followers. Instead, he launched into his own sermon. Although much of it has been discussed on his various SModcast Network podcasts, Smith officially announced his impending retirement post-Hit Somebody, he let the old guard have it (right to their faces), further washing his hands of the studios and the press, describing, in detail, his thoughts on all of the ways they go wrong selling a movie. But the biggest news was that he announced that he would not be selling Red State. Instead, he has plans to self-distribute the film via concert events and a road show tour. He’ll also be shunning all traditional advertising methods, presumably promoting his screenings solely through Twitter and the SModcast network. Even more shocking was his announcement that he is going to start distributing other indie films (once he stops making movies himself) with the infrastructure created to distribute Red State, all under the banner of “SModcast Pictures.”
You are going to read a lot of critical reactions to Smith’s Q&A and they will be justified to some degree. Was he being that self-righteous, slightly self-important Kevin Smith of recent years? Yes. Did he ramble on for way too long and not give his cast and crew the spotlight that they deserved? Yes. Did he concoct a really awkward prank by pretending to auction off his film, forcing any serious Smith fan to feel the “I don’t appreciate your ruse” line in Clerks? Yes, yes, yes. But, he was also brutally honest, quite inspiring, and even a little visionary. Being a struggling indie filmmaker myself, in the worst sales climate since I’ve been aware, it was really nice to hear someone in his privileged position articulate what many of us feel, sticking it to the man in a way we could never afford to.
As for the movie itself, it is good. As promised, the cinematography is like nothing you’ve seen in a Kevin Smith movie before. The tone is perfect, the performances are stellar, and the music is creepily awesome. The writing was a bit ham-fisted at times and the edit could have been much tighter, but this is a huge evolution for Smith as a filmmaker. The problem is, outside Askew-niverse context and taken just on its own merit, it kinda feels like a much tamer Eli Roth or Rob Zombie film. The performances are way better than those guys deliver and it is overall much more nuanced (for how extreme the storyline gets), but I felt it fell short on horror and (surprisingly) tension. That came from some key editing mistakes and not from cast, direction, or script. In fact, all of my problems with the film could have been fixed in editing. What is clear is that Smith has something to say and he knows exactly how he wants to say it. With Red State, Kevin Smith has created his strongest piece of art since Chasing Amy. But I just plain enjoyed the hell out of this movie, especially the performances by Michael Parks, John Goodman, Stephen Root, and Kerry Bishe.
Smith knows his fans are faithful. He’s betting his career on it. Exactly how faithful they are, we will soon find out. What do you think of Smith’s plans to self-distribute and advertise?
Red State won’t hit theatres in October, but the first leg of his road show tour starts in March. For more info visit http://viewaskew.com/redstate/.
For more Sundance updates, follow Josh on Twitter at @IcarusArts.