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Sundance 2023 review: 'Kim's Video' is a gonzo delight

‘Kim’s Video’ is a playful, continent-hopping, genre-blending documentary about a mission to save the collection of a beloved video store

'Kim's Video'. Image courtesy Carnivalesque Films

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“Why am I staking out a building full of neglected films in the middle of the night in Sicily? My compulsion had transfixed into obsession.” 

So asks David Redmon, co-director of this weird and wonderful documentary. The unlikely white whale being pursued is the donated collection of a beloved video store in New York City, which counted amongst its customers Richard Hell and the Coen brothers. When Kim’s Video closed in 2008, its collection of 55,000 titles—everything from obscure art films to pornos—was given away to the town of Salemi in Sicily by the owner, the fascinating Yongman Kim, on the promise that it would find a happy home there. 

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Kim’s Video, by Redmon and Ashley Sabin, is film-crazy. It’s also just crazy. When Redmon hears about Salemi, he travels there to see if he can track down the videos. He breaks into the building where they’re stored and find the cassettes on shelves and in piles, disorganized and unwanted. His attempts at gathering information are stymied by a combination of language barrier and blithe stonewalling by the locals. No one there seems to care about the collection—really, it’s amazing that Kim had thought they would. 

Things only get weirder from here. Redmon tries to reach out to the mayor at the time of the transfer. When that yields nothing, he travels to Seoul to meet Kim. He somehow convinces Kim to travel back with them to Sicily. This is a region under the shadow of the mafia, even if the film doesn’t draw a straight line to organized crime. Still, you can feel a heaviness descend on this light-hearted film. “This is where people go to get murdered,” Redmon says nervously as the car he’s been told to follow stops under a bridge. But this doesn’t deter Sabin and him from taking a final glorious swing at the problem, helped by Varda, Herzog, Hitchcock… and Affleck. 

If the Italians in the film conform to types—shady politicos, cagey old-timers in little groups—the filmmakers also send themselves up. Redmon never stops pushing, never stops asking questions; he’s the Michael Moore of lost video stores. Throughout the film, we see the locals string along the Americans, trying to see how their niche obsession could be exploited (since we have the benefit of subtitles, we know what they’re are saying even though the filmmakers don’t at the time). Their presence in Salemi is a stereotype in itself: Americans who go abroad but even then are only interested in America. Perhaps inadvertently, the filmmakers also hint at the ridiculousness of their mission through lofty comparisons; Redmon declares he’s out to right ‘injustice’, like the boy in Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is The Friend’s House?

Video might be a bridge too far, but Salemi isn’t immune to the pull of cinema. After his first break-in, Redmon is given a lift by Enrico, under whose care (though evidently not much care) the collection is kept. In a possible bid to drown out Redmon’s questions, Enrico plays something sinister and catchy in the car. In broken English he tells Redmon it's a tune he composed for a horror film. 

This is a crazy enough story that, had it been told absolutely straight, it would still have worked. But much of the fun is to see Redmon and Sabin knowingly juggle genres. Kim’s Video is an investigative indie doc. It's also an essay film, with clips from La Dolce Vita, Blow Out, Citizen Kane, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger to illustrate the action (like a true nerd, Redmon always says the title of the film aloud; I’m surprised he doesn’t mention the year in brackets). It’s a heist film. It’s a gonzo comedy. It’s guerilla filmmaking at its craziest and most committed. Above all, it’s a wry, affectionate look at people who love movies—and physical media—more than anything else in the world. 

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