Kevin Smith: Indie King or God Complex?

Kevin Smith protests the Westboro Baptist Church.

First there was the hype, then there was the letdown, and now, a day after Kevin Smith screened his latest film, RED STATE at Sundance, there is the residual anger. On Sunday, the CLERKS writer-director stunned audiences and film buyers alike by announcing that he was not, as promised, going to auction off the distribution rights to RED STATE, a movie he touted as a “horror movie” inspired by Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps.

Instead, Smith bought the rights himself, for twenty bucks, and said that in an act of anti-studio-system protest, he’d sell his own film, starting things off with a 15-city tour this summer. Smith’s disingenuousness was made all the worse by the overload of characteristic Smith hype that preceded RED STATE’s screening. (The protest/counter-protest outside the Eccles Theater being just one piece of his elaborate fabric.) Not helping matters is that the film, though loved by certain Smith die-hards, is generally considered a disappointment.

What’s most remarkable, though, is that at a festival where films are premiering every hour, and where even the most memorable of them are quickly bowled over by this minute’s—as opposed to last minute’s–buzz, people are still stewing over Smith’s Sundance episode. In line at the Eccles on Monday evening for the premiere of Jacob Aaron Estes new film, THE DETAILS, Smith was still a verbal trending topic amongst a number of people in line (mostly those of the young, hip demo). How could he—the Sundance Kid himself—betray them? And how would his distribution system actually work? Online, meanwhile, Smith’s minions of devoted fans have waged war on any critic or blogger who dares suggest that Smith is anything less than an indie God.

Let it be stated for the record that Smith has scorched the Earth here at Sundance,  which is to say, it’s all gone exactly as planned.

For more of Nicole’s dispatches at the Sundance Film Festival see her blog on The Daily Beast.