Filmmaker Kevin Smith has taken a rather novel approach to releasing his latest film, Red State: he’s doing it entirely by himself. In an unprecedented move at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, during which he also went head to head with the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church in a protest before his film’s premiere, Smith held an auction for the film’s distribution rights, and ultimately sold them to himself for a dollar via Twitter. While self-distribution isn’t a new idea, the very public shaming of just about every major player in Hollywood while pursuing it most definitely is. This is a bold step for independent film and the possibilities in more movies reaching an ever growing audience. Anyway, as part of his self-release platform, he has taken the film on a fifteen city tour, complete with one of his Q&A sessions afterward (worth an admission in and of itself, honestly), and being a fan of his, I was in attendance at last week’s stop in Atlanta, GA.
The show wasn’t exactly sold out, and there were plenty of seats, but remember, this tour was at a premium, and after all, the movie gets a full release later this year. In any case, there’s something quite fulfilling about experiencing a film for the first time from a director you’ve followed since his first movie with an auditorium full of other fans.
Red State is a film that is totally unlike anything else Kevin Smith has ever attempted, not only in subject matter, but in aesthetics and style as well. Turning in a frenetic, jump-cut filled horror-action-thriller (that’s still a bit funny), Smith shows his true potential as a filmmaker, and though I’m not going to get into the film itself, I think it’s important to note that his movie gets dark, dark, dark. Actually, it probably functions most successfully as a black comedy, with lots and lots of bullets.
The movie tells the story of the law enforcement siege on the Five Points Trinity Church, a small-town family-run church that protests the abominations of society at every turn, and take their beliefs to their terrifying and bloody conclusions when the abduct a trio of high school friends who they label as fornicators. That the Five Points worshippers have their roots in the very real, very crazy and very scary Westboro Baptist Church lends the film just enough current events credibility to work its way under your skin. Michael Parks plays Abin Cooper, the Fred Phelps-like leader of his family and church (they’re one and the same), and he is simply phenomenal. When asked after the film about the prospects for an award nomination later this year, Smith responded that “they don’t make awards for what’s up there” on the screen. I wholeheartedly concur. In a cast that includes Melissa Leo, John Goodman, and Stephen Root, Parks is a standout. His performance is nothing less than mesmerizing.
The film aside (and I promise you, I will write a ton about this movie once it gets released), the Q&A afterward was typical Smith faire, with his verbose, profanity-laden responses making their way through the answers of four questions in an hour and a half. This is par for the course, as Smith is a natural talker – he hosts numerous podcasts throughout the week at his SModcast site. He discussed his intention to retire after his next film, Hit Somebody at great length, stating that he’s tapped out. “I wanted to go out with something that would show what I’m capable of,” Smith said. “If the past twenty years have been me going to film school, learning to direct movies, in front of an audience, then these last two are my show pieces; they’re my thesis films.” If Red State’s success in undercutting and outpacing expectations of what exactly a Kevin Smith Film is is any indication of what he’s capable of, then I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us with Hit Somebody. It’s a shame we’ll be losing a filmmaker who is apparently at the top of his form.