What’s most impressive about “Kim’s Video” is what it isn’t. Stories of former clerks, many of whom have gone into celebrated filmmaking careers of their own, talking about who they were renting out films to at the legendary video store on St. Marks in New York could’ve easily made a delightful hour-and-a-half movie or even ten-hour miniseries. But it barely takes up 15 minutes in David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s far more unexpected and wonderful documentary, which does its subject proud by coming across as the type of underground discovery that one actually would find in Youngman Kim’s collection, tracking and eventually driving the bizarre story of what happened after the Korean entrepreneur struck a curious deal to send all 55,000 of his films to Salemi, Italy, one of the few places that would take the complete set with no plans to divvy it up.
As it would turn out, there was never any real plan to do much of anything with it as Redmon learns upon traveling to Salemi where his inability to speak Italian creates some impasse to finding out the truth, but then again, there is something that seems the local authorities don’t want to say even if language weren’t a barrier. Redmon finds an intriguing cast of characters from Enrico, the film composer that lives above where the collection is housed, Diego, the local chief of police who is the main contact with his limited English, and the town’s current and former mayors Dominico Venuti and Vittorio Sgarbi, respectively, who both see the acquisition of the Kim’s archive as a way to put the town on the map after a devastating earthquake, but at least in Sgarbi’s case may have less than noble intentions.
An early quote from ex-Kim’s clerk Robert Greene, describing a cease and desist order from Jean-Luc Godard for Kim pirating “Historie du Cinema” when no copy was otherwise available in America, starts to echo throughout “Kim’s Video” when Redmon has to break into the collection to see its current condition for himself, with the future “Procession” director saying the staff proudly prized availability of knowledge over ownership and as Redmon moves from an observer to a driving force in preserving the archive, it’s a question whether a righteous endeavor is a healthy one for the culture and the filmmaker himself. Showing an interest where not even Mr. Kim, an elusive character nowadays that the director first meets in Seoul, has the will to hold Salemi to their promises of making the collection available to the public, Redmon slyly comes to question himself as he namechecks over 50 films in his running commentary for comparison to his own exploits, showing how his own reality has been warped by cinephilia.
It’s particularly disorienting when the story of “Kim’s Video” consistently reassures Redmon that for as much as he sees his life as a movie, it actually becomes worthy of one as the tale grows stranger and broader in international scope as it wears on and although there may be a happy ending, it’s accompanied by bittersweetness when the cost of the devotion to the medium is always lingering around the edges, not the least of which is the burden of the true movie buff who can’t understand why others aren’t as obsessed with it as they are. However for better or worse, “Kim’s Video” is bound to convert more than a few.
“Kim’s Video” will screen again at the Sundance Film Festival at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City on January 22nd at 6:15 pm and at the Redstone Cinemas in Park City on January 26th at 6:35 pm. It will be available online from January 24th through January 29th.