A still from Kim’s Video by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Kim’s Video Review – Sundance Film Festival

This review contains spoilers.

On January 17th, I visited one of the last remaining Sanity stores in Perth to scour their shelves for bargain prices as the clocked ticked over to the nationwide closure. At the counter, as the discs were slotted into the cases by the staff, I asked them how long they had been working at Sanity for. For some, their Sanity ‘career’ was brief with only a few months under their belt, but for others, they had been part of the Sanity family for over a decade. In that time, they met countless customers who became like an extended family, visiting the stores and picking up DVDs, CDs, and more.

As I paid, there was a realisation that they were about to lose that connection forever. They were about to lose the conversations about the films people were buying or the music they were listening to. There was a sadness in their voice as they realised that over a decade of employment had now collapsed like a paper bag and that chapter in their life had now closed.

I’ve been to my fair share of video store closing sales, bolstering my already over stacked collection with weathered, much loved rental copies of DVDs; each of which tell their own tales of the houses they’ve visited and the people they’ve encountered. I’d attend a video store closure with a tinge of sadness and an opportunistic mindset; yes, their closure meant that another video store haven was gone, but it also meant that those rare, hard to find gems were going to be mine, forever.

My personal interest in physical media collecting meant that I’m keenly aware of the landmark video store and physical media havens around the world, even if they were ridiculously overpriced. I lost a day in HMV in Edinburgh, discovered impossible to find Australian films in Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, purchased out of print Criterion’s at I Luv Video in Austin, covered someone’s late fees at the last Blockbuster in Australia, and am a regular donator to Scarecrow Video in Seattle.

Above all of these, it’s Kim’s Video that lingered in my mind the most. I’d heard of its mythical nature, where it was once a store that held some 55,000 unique movies on VHS and DVD. These were often bootleg recordings of films, with Kim’s Video being one of the rare places you could find Todd Haynes Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, or Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinema with ease. The latter release saw store owner Youngman Kim receive a cease-and-desist letter from Godard.

When I first visited New York, I was able to visit the 1st Ave Kim’s Video & Music store before it closed, but it was the St. Marks Place location that held a spiritual quality that has led many video store lovers to make a pilgrimage to its shell. Knowing that filmmakers like Alex Ross Perry and Todd Phillips, and musicians like Albert Hammond Jr. and Andrew W.K., worked at the Kim’s Video locations added a mythic quality to these locations. What discussions would they have had with the customers? What films would they have recommended? Who did they meet?

In 2007, Kim closed the St. Marks Place store, and set about finding a place for the collection. Oddly, Kim selected the Sicilian town of Salemi to be the recipient of the rare films. The promise of a town that would have an ongoing festival of films that safely stored the vast collection was alluring. An agreement was struck between Kim and the mayor of Salemi that any Kim’s Video member who visited Salemi would be able to access the collection.

Equally alluring for co-directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin is the mystery about why Kim would send the Kim’s Video collection to Italy, and most importantly, what exactly has happened to the collection. This query sets up the basis for their documentary Kim’s Video.

The investigation into the mystery dominates the narrative of Kim’s Video, with Redmon and Sabin brushing over the history of the video store with a brisk ten-minute tour through the legacy of Kim’s Video, touching very briefly on notable moments in the stores life. In these early moments, we get to find out just how much the Coen brothers owed in late fees, who some of the employees were, and how Kim managed to build much of his collection. These moments are fascinating and exciting, elucidating just how someone goes about building a deep and varied library of rare and risqué films, a note that is highlighted when we see footage of the collection arriving in Salemi and the first tape that is pulled from a box is a porn video.

Just like I have inserted myself completely into this review, David Redmon immerses himself completely into the legacy of Kim’s Video, breaking documentary rules by becoming one with the narrative, ultimately influencing how its trajectory plays out. We never hear from Ashley Sabin, but frequently hear Redmon’s story, seeing him wrap the history of Kim’s Video around himself like a protective shawl, detailing extensively throughout the film the impact the video store had on his personal film education. These early moments about why Redmon would care about a place like Kim’s Video help inform his eagerness to visit Salemi and discover the truth about their custodianship of the collection.

Once in Salemi, he immediately starts to unpick the threads of the towns mafioso history, interrogating anyone and everyone he meets with questions about where Kim’s Video is, and how he as a Kim’s Video member can access it. There’s an obsessive nature to Redmon’s questioning that becomes tiring, even though it uncovers fascinating aspects to this narrative.

Equally exhausting is how he sees everything through the prism of film, with constant references to the ‘ghosts of cinema past’ who he says are aiding his journey. In an obnoxiously intrusive manner, Redmon compares his actions to the plots of films, with the most prominent and bizarre inspiration being Ben Affleck’s Argo. In the Best Picture winning film, Affleck tells the fictionalised true story of a crew of Hollywood filmmakers’ who band together to create a fake film to rescue citizens from Iran. It’s all very cinematic and engaging, if not exactly memorable. A bit like Kim’s Video.

As Redmon is genially stonewalled by the townsfolk of Salemi, he manages to discover the location of the building housing the Kim’s Video collection. Opportunistically entering the room where collection is stored, he is confronted by the desperate state they’re in, with many of the video tapes and boxes suffering from extensive water damage. The promised safe and accessible premises in Salemi was all a lie. It’s here when Redmon decides that he needs to be the Prince Charming to the damsel in distress videotapes and sets about planning a heist to recover the tapes.

As Kim’s Video rolled on, I found myself become increasingly conflicted as Redmon further inserts himself into the narrative. The results are clear; Redmon, alongside a rogue group of masked filmmaker friends, engaged in a criminal act to free the collection and return it to New York. On the one hand, I found myself championing Redmon’s risky endeavour of releasing the imprisoned collection into the world; but then I found myself recoiling each moment he further inserted himself into the narrative. In an awkward moment where Redmon informs Kim that he’s freed the collection, you can feel the apprehension exuding from Kim as a look of “what have done” washes over his face. There’s a constant feeling of Redmon staring into a mirror saying “you’re a hero”, and then waiting to hear the world chime in in agreement.

Ultimately, my frustration with Kim’s Video stems from the way it plays out like it’s the second part of a much bigger story. In giving a cursory glance to why a place like Kim’s Video became an institution where people from around the world would visit the place it once stood, Redmon and Sabin manage to rob themselves of any genuine connection with the overarching narrative of stealing this prized collection from an Italian town. It’s almost like Redmon and Sabin have taken the phrase “the journey is the destination” to heart, with both directors becoming so fascinated with unfurling the mystery that they haven’t realised that they’ve turned the collection into an empty MacGuffin.

There is a great story about the impact of Kim’s Video on the people who worked there, the filmmakers who sought influence from the thousands of stories on its shelves, and on people like Redmon who gained an extensive film education like no other thanks to its existence. Kim’s Video is not that story. Instead, it’s a questionable heist story that’s not particularly memorable, just like Argo.

Co-Directors: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin

Featuring: David Redmon, Youngman Kim

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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