It's amazing what the endorsement of a big director like Kevin Smith can mean for a small indie movie. Just ask Toronto actor/director Matthew Johnson, whose debut film “The Dirties” got a major boost from the “Clerks” filmmaker after winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year.
“[Smith] was just a fan of the movie at first,” Johnson told Yahoo! Movies Canada this week. “He really liked it and he said he was going to promote it on his podcast. I was really blown away by how positive he was about it.”
Smith has made no secret of his love for “The Dirties,” calling Johnson’s movie “an astonishingly great first film."
— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) October 9, 2013
“He kept being so involved in the promotion and getting excited about the film that it just sort of led to him saying that he wanted to release it,” Johnson said. “Along with Phase 4 in Canada, he’s the sole reason that people are able to see the movie right now, which is pretty amazing.”
In addition to being available online and on-demand, “The Dirties” is currently playing in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, and opens in four more U.S. cities on Oct. 11. Not bad for a movie made for around $10,000.
“The Dirties” follows two movie-obsessed teenagers (played by Johnson and Owen Williams) bullied by their high school classmates and struggling to fit in. Heavily inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and shot in a faux-documentary style, the film deals with sensitive subjects like bullying and school shootings earnestly and with a real sense of humour.
Johnson said he’s been completely surprised by the reaction to the movie.
“We sort of expected people to be quite put off or at least more measured with their response to it,” Johnson said of the film’s positive reception at Slamdance. “I think critics and audiences alike were both sort of waiting to see what the reception was like before they decided to take a risk on it. The film deals with such risky subject matter that having that seal of approval really led to everything that happened after it. It was huge for us.”
So why is an indie Canadian film like "The Dirties" opening bigger in the United States than in Canada? The 28-year-old filmmaker believes it might have something to do with the film's subject matter.
“People are more interested in the perspective of it there than they are in Canada because it’s so in the consciousness of the public," Johnson said, referring to the ever present spectre of youth violence in the U.S.. "The reception to the film -- in terms of the positivity -- has been equal with Canadian and American audiences, but certainly there seems to be a much deeper fascination with it stateside.”
Kevin Smith's support -- and a cult following that includes nearly 2.5 million Twitter followers -- might also have something to do with it.
“This is the most important film you will see all year,” Smith said. “Matt Johnson has mashed-up the found footage film and the faux-documentary genres and crafted the most original, hypnotic, and human movie about a monster-in-the-making you will ever see.”
"The Dirties" is now playing in Toronto and is available on iTunes.