Sundance 2011: Kevin Smith takes ‘Red State’ into his own hands


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Seventeen years after his “Clerks” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, Kevin Smith returned to Park City, Utah, with “Red State” — but he won’t be leaving town with a distributor for his new work.

Ever the showman, Smith had announced before the festival that he would auction off the film’s rights in the lobby of the Eccles Theater like an antique desk being hawked at Sotheby’s. But soon after the film played to a good but not great reaction in its world premiere, Smith ditched the idea of a public sale and announced to the audience (after auctioning the film to himself for $20) that he would release the film on his own in October. ‘The fans are the ones who got us to make this film, and they’re going to be the ones who help us get it seen,’ Smith said.


In an introduction filled with obscene jokes, Smith briefly talked about the demonstrations staged outside the theater, and held up several of his favorite counter-protest placards.

The film is largely focused on the congregation of a hate-spewing preacher (played by Michael Parks) who kidnaps and murders people he believes are homosexual. The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which is equally homophobic (“God Hates Fags” is a favorite poster) but hasn’t yet killed anyone, sent some of its supporters to picket the film, and the resulting counter-picket turned the Eccles parking lot into a free-speech carnival.

There wasn’t quite as much fun inside the theater.

Smith warned the audience that the movie, which also stars Melissa Leo and John Goodman, wasn’t humorous like his “Chasing Amy” or “Dogma,” and he spoke the truth. The film starts with the abduction of three young boys, who are to be sacrificed for their libidinous transgressions. Parks’ preacher is clearly shaped in the mold of Westboro’s Fred Phelps, but then Smith takes the story to Waco, Texas — not physically, but metaphorically as the church starts to resemble David Koresh’s apocalyptic, armed-to-the-teeth Branch Davidians. There’s a lot of gun violence, an apparent rapture, and even some anti-fascist preaching (when it comes to America, it will either be wrapped in a flag or on the cross, the film says).

“Red State” might have been a difficult sale for any distributor. Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax Films distributed “Clerks” and several of Smith’s other works, waited for Smith in the Eccles lobby, to see if the auction would in fact happen. When Smith announced his self-distribution news inside the theater, Weinstein and a few other buyers left the Eccles, and piled into their SUVs to go see other movies. By that time, the protesters were long gone.

— John Horn