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I was waiting to see Kevin Smith's Red State last night, when the line was halted as Smith's giant tour bus pulled up. Smith and his crew poured out and immediately walked not to the theater but down the driveway to where two teams of protestors were shouting, singing, and waving signs. As you probably know, the Westboro Baptist Church, the outfit that pickets the funerals of fallen soldiers, AIDS victims, and, seemingly just about anybody (like the innocent victims of the recent Arizona shootings), had sent some members to Utah to protest Smith's film, which is a broadside against radical Christian fundamentalists. Carrying signs reading "I'm a happy Jew" and "Dick tastes yummy," Smith and his producers tangled with the protestors -- who also included a counter, pro-Smith contingent -- before entering the theater and intro'ing his film, which he said was "not a comedy like Dogma," his previous take on religion, but a "horror movie like Jersey Girl," his attempt at a mainstream relationship comedy. And with that the movie begun.

Like many films I've seen at Sundance, it was hard to watch Red State through the smoke of its expectations. But while the team behind Jesse Peretz's My Idiot Brother were content to nonchalantly downplay the lofty expectations the industry placed on it -- expectations which were met when the film sold to the Weinstein Company for between $6 and $7 million -- Smith turned his expectations game into a drama with its own, as he said from the stage, first, second and third acts. The first act was the protests, the third was Smith's on-stage announcement of the film's distributor, and it was the second that was the film.

As any director knows, second acts are hard. I liked Smith's. There is something genuinely ugly about Red State, and I mean that as a compliment. The film is a bleak, deeply cynical movie that taps into something unclean within our contemporary political discussion. It is a horror movie -- there's torture, heads being blown off, and one of the most risible villains in recent memory. But there's no Final Girl, and the film's last reversal is both jaw-droppingly bold and then spectacularly tossed away. The ending scene -- over the end credits and involving a softly sung spiritual -- filled me with the same sense of nauseous outrage as Leatherman's waving of his chainsaw at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I won't put Smith's movie in the same league as Hooper's classic, but it's more of a kin with 1970s social-exploitation horror than the current crop of studio shockers.

I left during the third act -- not the film's, but Smith's. I had to get to the Lou Reed concert. But I followed on Twitter as Smith gave a lengthy monologue decrying the current indie film distribution model and the high cost of marketing films the conventional way. And then he announced, as I suspected he would, that Red State would be self-distributed. What a stick in the eye to the packed room of acquisitions executives, I thought. Later, I read one prominent blogger who swore never to cover Smith again.

Smith did a great job of ramping expectations and creating a drama around them. As he climbs back aboard the tour bus and begins his 15-city Red State, which story will resonant with the press? The film's or the Sundance premiere's? How will one story interweave with the other? Stay tuned...

Scott Macaulay

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In the blog, Brandon Harris gives his take on some of the films (including Pariah, pictured left), Alicia Van Couvering examines the multiple movies with cult themes in this year's fest and we post our first video portrait of a Sundance volunteer, co-produced by Kenneth Cole.

To read more posts from our blog, click here.


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