Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 23rd, 2023
Kim’s Video (David Redmon/Ashley Sabin, 2023) 3½ out of 4 stars.*
Any cinephile who lived in New York City in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (the latter two were my era) remembers well the wonderful video-rental chain Kim’s Video. Stocked with a wide variety of options—initially on VHS, then also on DVD—Kim’s was a popular destination for those looking for what they might not find at a place like Blockbuster’s. The rise of Netflix spelled the end, sadly, and so owner Yongman Kim, who had emigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1979, donated his entire collection to a worthy beneficiary.
Or not, as the case may be. Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (Do Donkeys Act?) take us on a journey to the town of Salemi, on the island of Sicily, which put together a successful application for Kim’s videos. Except that nothing turned out as it should. Redmon, both subject and narrator, is an intriguing guide in this unexpected documentary odyssey through the twin destinations of ambition and corruption.
At the beginning, Redmon does not necessarily the most compelling narrator make, especially for folks who, like me, sometimes find personal documentaries the opposite of engaging. With the benefit of hindsight, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing, for he proves a deceptively compelling subject, worming his way not only into our hearts but into the confidence of a surprising number of reticent characters, among them possible members of La Cosa Nostra. It’s a wonder he made it through the experience alive.
As a movie lover from Texas adrift in the big city, Redmon found a home at Kim’s in his early adulthood, the many obscure titles that the proprietor had long collected (sometimes ignoring copyright laws) providing the best kind of film education. And so it was natural for him to wonder, years later, what exactly happened to the 55,000 tapes and discs. Though there was an offer from NYU, somehow the then-Mayor of Salemi, Vittorio Sgarbi, convinced Kim that his town was a better option. Off they therefore went in 2009, with the promise of accessibility to any and all who might want to watch them, especially former Kim’s Video members.
But when Redmon heads there ten years later, what he finds is not what was promised. And so the tale truly begins. In a magnificent series of adventures—Redmon proving foolhardy, brave, or some combination of both—our filmmaker friend becomes not only an investigator but instigator, the protagonist of his own movie in ways we could never have imagined at the start. The result is powerful testament to obsession, cinematic and otherwise, and a celebration how art can bring us all together.
*Expanded from capsule review in Sundance Curtain Raiser.