The Sundance Film Festival brings audiences back to the theaters in Park City after two years of employing the virtual model. With that in mind it seems appropriate to dive right into “Kim’s Video” a documentary about the video store which satisfied the New York City cinephiles for almost more than two decades. Located on the sacred hipster ground of St.Marks Place, it possessed an amazing treasure trove of rare and eccentric films.
Directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin have a cinematic obsession. In “Kim’s Video,” Redmon narrates the doc while making countless references to other films he admires and ones he discovered at the iconic video rental center. Some of its past members include the Coen Brothers, who racked up a late-fee bill of $600 and never settled it.
The place was originally run by the charismatic Yongman Kim, who started out working in a fruit stand, then moved to a dry-cleaning business that offered video rentals on the side. Subsequently, the popularity of the home video yielded a lucrative business and Kim became the king of indie video stores in NYC. His franchise grew to six stores at one point, and, by 2006, it eventually amassed 55,000 rental videos.
In 2005, the FBI raided Mondo Kim’s alleging that the store was selling bootlegs. Nonetheless, the store came back with new films on the shelves. However, as happened with most video stores in the age of streamers, the institution closed. In 2008. Kim announced he would close Mondo Kim’s and give away its entire collection to anyone who could fulfill certain criteria, stipulating that the entire collection was to be acquired intact and that Kim’s members would continue to have access to the collection wherever it resided.
In December 2008, it was reported that Salemi, Sicily, made a successful bid for the collection, as part of the village’s restoration and effort to revitalize tourism after the earthquakes. The small Italian village became home to the large archive. But soon after the initial public interest faded, so did the preservation of the collection.
What starts out as a pilgrimage for Director Redmon and Sabin, the visit soon evolves into a quest for the truth and a possible rescue mission to liberate the collection from the nightmare of abandonment and neglect. But upon their arrival, they encounter a series of barriers both in terms of access to the location and also regarding language.
Owner Kim is a brazen character who has shown zero concern for the consequences, while he abused copyright rules and recorded rare films to be rented out to the public. Of course, that was part of its novelty. His employees laughed it off as they remembered how Kim would produce his own copies of rare gems.
The directors take us through an increasingly wild investigation in terms of cinematic references and influences. A story that’s captured with the political intrigue of mafia involvement, there are interviews with wonderful characters including former clerks such as Robert Greene and Alex Ross Perry. The film also features an impressive amount of archival footage which serves as a tour of Kim’s Video.
“Kim’s Video” offers a reminder of how much film history is lost to the internet age. The film brings us back to the tangible thrill of visiting the video store. Curation of this sort just doesn’t exist on streamers. It really speaks to the heart of an unabashed love for movies. This kind of doc admittedly caters to a specific viewer, but audiences with an affinity for physical media will appreciate its take on the archive and its responsibility in preserving art, culture, and history.