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Tribeca 2023: Bringing Out the (almost) Dead
One man's obsession is everyone's gain in "Kim's Video."
The positive sensation of searching shelves for movies to watch is still alive and well, especially in used media stores. The ghosts of video rental past haunt those aisles and linger in the hearts of all patrons, who I still observe holding wide-eyed gazes and joyful conversations with one another. This is the “human algorithm” as suggested in the tagline for the documentary At the Video Store, a much-missing element from the now dominant mass of streaming services and gatekeepers - It’s one thing to be given recommendations based on your own taste, but it’s another to find previously unknown selections and discoveries. That’s the video store touch.
Director David Redmon - with his co-directing partner Ashley Sabin (both of Mardi Gras: Made in China fame) is the unseen hand but always heard narrator behind Kim’s Video, a docu-essay hybrid about the New York City movie mecca Kim’s Video. The store spun many a film lover’s tastes and spawned many a filmmaker’s career, inspired by its massive amount of hard-to-find and sometimes bootlegged films. For David, it was home and a place to find peace from the voices calling him to make movies. Here, years after owner Yongman Kim closed his stores, David seeks to find out what happened to the collection of films that he fell in love with, leading him on a journey across the globe, inside different cultures and meeting sketchy individuals.
Watching Kim’s Video is a lively and sometimes tense time, filled with surprises and obstacles and victories throughout. It’s silly to think of, but that much is true, even when the film calls its own tale into question. David Redmon as the narrator is a reliable source of movie references, factoids, personality, and sincere intent, but as co-director, he very well could be a master manipulator, carving cinema not out of reality, but mostly from a script.
That is the nature of documentary essay films like Bowling for Columbine and Grizzly Man of course, where heightened cinematic truths are sought over simply reading the facts - and if accurate this would make Kim’s Video a masterclass in that style. If inaccurate, and if the events that unfold in Kim’s Video indeed happened as shown, then how beautiful and serendipitous. How playful and passionate. How wild.
From foreign mafia involvement to international politics, and the filmmaking dreams of one businessman, Kim’s Video is truly revelatory, perfectly articulating the obsession of David Redmon in finding the fate of this treasure trove of films. His search, described as “quixotic,” isn’t just a fun investigation about an obscure subject, as it represents a deep yearning that I believe is shared by all patrons of the movies, and that is community.
David’s attachment to this collection in particular, more than to cinema in general, isn’t some special fancy to return to every now and then, but rather a timeless attempt to maintain a connection with others, sparing no expense - a connection through what is now a memory from his youth: the video store. However, while shopping for movies through shelf after shelf is to this day a fine collective activity, it’s not necessarily something that patrons will go to the ends of the Earth for, as they can always scroll through virtual carousels of film titles online. Indeed, David Redmon is tilting at windmills.
Keep tilting, I say. Scour the shelves and press play every day. This odyssey is one of persistence most palpable and thrills most exciting. Romantics will identify all the way with this trip, film lovers or otherwise. Confrontational, friendly, and spiritually independent, Kim’s Video personifies what’s personal and sacred to all of us - the importance of art and the need for art to be felt. Without this recognition, tapes, and DVDs would still be sitting in boxes at an obscure building in Italy. The video store touch lives on. Keep tilting. 5/5
Kim’s Video is currently on the festival circuit and will be screening next at the Tribeca Film Festival, presented in part with Lunchmeat VHS, on June 13th.
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