Kevin Smith’s RED STATE premiered at Sundance in January where he also announced he would be taking the film out on the road throughout March and beginning at Radio City Music Hall. Saturday March 5th was the first stop of the tour and he has been live tweeting crowd reactions to the film at each stop. I have no way of knowing how energetic each screening has been on every stop but the screening on March 12th in Kansas City ended up being particular special.
Prior to the tour stop Kevin sent out an open invitation to the Phelps family to attend the screening, which was then accepted. Over at The Red Statements he posted that they had accepted and that he would allow Megan Phelps to come up on stage after the screening to share her thoughts on RED STATE. At this point I had already purchased my ticket for the KC screening and this information actually intrigued me even further and excited me about the possibility that the screening could be one of the most talked about of the tour.
I do not live in Kansas City so Saturday morning I loaded up the car and started the three hour trek to the hotel with my wife and some friends. When the time came to walk to the theater we walked down the street but there were no crowds on the side of the street we entered the theater from. We walking into the theater an hour prior to the screening and as I walked by the other entrance I heard quite an uproar on the outside and I went closer to get a look. Outside the doors was the protest of the Westboro folks with Megan Phelps in tow as well as Kevin Smith fans mounting the counter protest. It was quite the scene as the Westboro protesters sang songs while standing on American flags and chanting at everyone standing parallel to them across the street. Cars were driving by honking and flashing a variety of hand gestures to the Westboro protesters which also included children holding signs that said things like “God Hates Fags” and other signs that made little to no sense. Counter protest signs included sayings such as “I Assure You God Loves Kevin Smith” and “God Loves Rainbows” and many people in the counter protest crossed the street to take pictures with Megan Phelps and the others. It’s obvious the Westboro people get a kick out of all the attention because they all posed and had huge smiles on their faces even when they weren’t taking pictures.
The time eventually came for everyone to set down their signs and head inside for the screening of RED STATE. Kevin came out beforehand to talk and introduce the film as well as welcome the Phelps family to the screening while also being armed with a slew of jokes that really seemed to energize the crowd. He then explained that it was nice to sit and have a good laugh but that RED STATE was not going to be quite as lighthearted and that he would be sitting in back watching the film with us and tweeting our reactions. He then introduced the film and walked off stage.
Brief thoughts about RED STATE: When you hear Kevin Smith talk about RED STATE being different from the rest of his films and that it is extremely dark while also joking that it’s more of a horror film like JERSEY GIRL, it’s important to know that he is not kidding (although I still haven’t seen JERSEY GIRL). RED STATE looks great and is shot very different from the rest of Smith’s films. The camera movements in the film really add to the mood and the tension especially in one specific moment of the film involving a chase. When filming an action scene like that there is a risk of getting lost in the action where the viewer might lose track of a character or not know what is happening at all; this chase sequence is pretty awesome and one of my favorite moments in the film.
The movie moves extremely fast and follows lots of different characters so not one specific group of characters on screen at a time are the chief focus which also adds to keeping the audience involved in the film. It goes without saying that Michael Parks is a great actor, but here in RED STATE as the crazy preacher Abin Cooper he is incredibly frightening and always engaging. I was pinned to my seat with my eyes focused on his every movement when he was on screen and my ears listening intently to every word out of his mouth. He’s the biggest selling point of the film and also the most memorable although Melissa Leo and John Goodman are both very good as is the rest of the cast.
I will be completing a review very soon so I’m not going to use this space to nitpick specific details about anyone’s performance or some of the odder things about the film I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about. Overall I found RED STATE to be very well made and performed quite admirably. I would go out on a limb at this point and say it might end up being my favorite of Kevin Smith’s movies after I’ve had a chance to view it a few more times. I don’t want to be redundant and review the film twice so that is my brief overview on RED STATE.
Post Screening Q&A: After the film ended and the crowd waited for the Q&A to begin I opened up my Twitter so I could read tweets of the crowds reactions (filed under #SMo) as well as a nugget of information Kevin later announced to the audience, that the Phelps members in attendance ducked out of the screening barely 15 minutes into the film.
The first few questions of the Q&A all involved things like the choice of props in certain scenes, the rumor that George Carlin was at one point considered for the role of Abin Cooper and a couple of aspiring filmmakers asking about how to be considered for release by Smodcast Pictures and how they could convince Smith to help get their project off the ground. Kevin Smith is a great entertainer and a very down to Earth guy that always injects his answers with a humorous flair as well as an encouraging pat on the back for anyone looking to get into the business, which is why I could have sat and listened to him talk and answer questions all day everyday, which I basically do anyway as I listen to ALL of his podcasts.
The Q&A took an unexpected turn when two people came up and identified themselves as Libby Phelps and Josh Phelps, the only two from the family that stayed and watched the whole film, but also two members of the family that are no longer involved with or friendly with the rest of their family and the church they support. Libby and Josh were also both very down to Earth and funny as Kevin asked them question after question about the inner workings of the church. The interview dominated the rest of the Q&A with Josh and Libby sharing stories of their childhood and the fact that they weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas, but were allowed to watch as many R rated movies as they pleased.
Before Josh and Libby presented themselves the crowd was collectively sitting back and taking in all of Kevin’s answers and as the two announced their presence it was quite a sight to see everyone in front of me sit up in their seats to get a view of them as it was before they made it known that they were not there to ridicule RED STATE or Kevin for making the film, but were in fact giving him props for how on point a lot of the hate speech and preaching that Abin Cooper spouts off in the film was. In the end, that was the biggest compliment Kevin could have been given about his film as he not once but twice planted a big hug on Libby Phelps.
Throughout the making of RED STATE and post Sundance it has been an incredibly inspiring and fun experience to see and hear Kevin Smith speak so honestly and passionately about his film. Many have tried to criticize and ridicule him for the decisions he’s made about releasing the film himself, when in fact it’s simply a filmmaker doing what he’s been doing for almost two decades and instead of passing it off to someone else he’s standing behind his product and trying something different for himself. The tour experience itself is unlike anything I have ever experience and was hands down the best theater experience I’ve ever had. The crowd was friendly and everyone was into it; even in moments where people gasped and were sitting in silence or shock someone yelled out “Winning” and the crowd burst into laughter not because what was on the screen was funny, but that we were all united in an experience that was nothing but fun and everyone in the theater at that moment was indeed ‘winning.’
I fully encourage everyone interested in seeing RED STATE to go HERE and purchase tickets for any screening in your area. The experience was worth every penny for me as Kevin Smith has been dishing free content over Smodcast for years now and I was able to do something to support a filmmaker I admire for his passion and I was able to witness a film I highly anticipated while also getting the extra bucket of win by listening to Kevin talk about his movie. Also, anyone interested in knowing everything Libby and Josh said that night in Kansas City will be able to listen to the whole section of that Q&A next week on Kevin’s podcast Plus One which he does with his wife Jen.
One last note, anyone who doesn’t already follow Kevin on Twitter definitely should cause the Q&A never really ends because he answers questions all day long everyday there. It’s also a nice form of entertainment because he also spends a lot of time poking fun at the Westboro members also on Twitter as they attempt to taunt him and explain exactly why he’s going to Hell. On that note it’s time to wrap up, a big thanks should go out to Kevin Smith for coming out, delivering a very thought provoking film and for providing one hell of a good time. Anyone not able to attend a tour date, keep an eye out around October 19, 2011 as the film should be opening wider at that time!
Below are a few pictures that I took from the event. I apologize for the low quality of the images as they were taken from my phone.