SXSW 2021: Malcolm Ingram's 'Clerk' Documentary on Kevin Smith
by Alex Billington
March 19, 2021
"More often than not, a hero’s most epic battle is the one you never see; it’s the battle that goes on within him or herself." Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith is a fascinating guy and iconic filmmaker. Love him or hate him, he has made 13 movies (so far), created a podcast empire, and cemented himself in pop culture history as a famous fanboy. Like many of us, he started as a film lover. He always wanted to be a storyteller, but had no idea if he could ever be successful. After seeing Linklater's Slacker, off he went to the Vancouver Film School in the 1990s, where he met producer / filmmaker Scott Mosier, and the rest is history. Malcolm Ingram's new documentary Clerk, which just premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, take us through Smith's entire life, examining his legacy and many accomplishments – both as a filmmaker and as a person.
I'm not exactly sure why I wasn't expecting much (perhaps because so many other docs about filmmakers before haven't been that interesting), but Clerk is damn good. The 115-minute film covers his entire career, beginning with his early days as an actor and comedian as a teen, to his current days as a father figure. It's honest about his ups and downs, makes me nostalgic for the early days (of his career and of my own life in cinema), and features tons of interviews with anyone that knows him. Smith is unquestionably a genuine guy and this affirms that. This doc also feels like a passion project for director Malcolm Ingram to try and put together and tell Smith's story authentically and get everyone who knows him to talk about him. There's a lot in here and it's comprehensive. It could've even been longer if they wanted to get into more details, but at almost two hours there's plenty it talks about anyway. Worth a watch no matter how you feel about him.
Watching this it really hit me hard thinking about life and living your dreams and all I've been through. I'm no Kevin Smith, by any means. Not by a long shot. But I've been going to Sundance for so many years, and I always get nostalgic when someone talks about their experiences there. Everything changed for Kevin Smith at Sundance 1994, and I was overjoyed to see actual footage of him that year at the festival. So many times watching this I was like "I was there!!" I was at that Red State screening. I remember covering Zack & Miri and how much the studio wanted it to be a hit. I watched Kevin Smith in Hall H at Comic-Con for years. It just reminds me how much I have been a part of this world too, and how much I've been living my life in my own way, carving my own path. Ultimately the success or fame or finances (or lack thereof) don't matter, it's the passionate pursuit of being genuine at all costs and doing the things you love that truly matters in life.
The core of Kevin Smith as a person, as a filmmaker, as a fan, and as someone who doesn't care how much you hate him, is that he is honest and authentic and loves to talk. He says whatever he wants, he makes any films he wants, he doesn't care if he slips up and says something dumb. He's real. Which is quite hard. And this documentary captures that core of him throughout, not only in all the interviews where everyone admits this knowing him personally, but also in the fact that through the toughest parts of his career, he has kept going. Even when he fails, he figures out a way to get back up and stay true to who he is, and many fans have picked up on that. Maybe he sucks at making movies, but he is definitely a great public speaker. Maybe you think he's pathetic, but at least he is sincere. And as one of the interviewees points out in this, its been 27 years since Clerks first premiered, and yet we're still here talking about it. Not every filmmaker can say that.