REVIEW: Clerk – A Documentary About Kevin Smith – SXSW

Director Kevin Smith was the featured subject of a new documentary film, Clerk directed by Malcolm Ingram, which premiered at SXSW 2021 this week. While the casual movie viewer might be familiar with Smith’s films (some more so than others), the writer/director was essentially built by film festivals – at least, according to this documentary – so it’s only fitting to have this documentary about his life premiere it at one. The subject of the film is featured quite heavily in it, as are his closest friends and family members, retelling how the original Clerks (1994) was made, as well as providing a look into the production of every film to come from the director since then.

For a film buff, this film feels part historical storytelling and part fan letter to the artist. Although Smith is still very much alive – even sharing the details of his near-death heart-attack back in 2018 – he continues to talk about his movie making days of the past. Focusing more recently on connecting with his fans, creating new media (such as his many podcasts, running his businesses, and attending speaking engagements), Smith reflects on the people who helped get him to the top as though saying goodbye. 

While Smith and Tarantino have very different styles, their journeys might feel a bit parallel (as would their fanbases). In fact, they’ve also cast Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn in roles recently. Back to the point at hand: both directors hold their fans in suspense, teasing audiences as though they’re ending their stories in terms of feature films. Yet neither man is going away. Nor should they. Smith has not only honed his craft over the years – eloquently reflecting his thoughts to fans and about fandom – but he has also seamlessly adapted with the times. As “peak TV” continues to dominate, Smith got to fanboy himself while sharing his talent with the small screen, directing episodes of The CW’s The Flash and Supergirl between 2016-2018.

Sometimes teary eyed and earnest, the documentary beautifully swings from dick joke to touching moment back to dick joke without missing a beat. For any fans of the early stuff (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy) or those who are devoted to Jay & Silent Bob, or the people who enjoy the more recent outlandish stories (Yoga Hosers, Tusk) or even those who agree that Dogma (1999) is by far the best Kevin Smith film: this touching and thorough behind the scenes look at the man himself and everything he’s built is a must see. 

Clerks premiered at SXSW 2021

— Yael Tygiel

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