Hundreds of Catholic protesters picketed the screening of Kevin Smith’s ”Dogma” at the New York Film Festival Monday night, but Smith wants them to understand that he’s really on their side. The picketers say he’s committing heresy with his jokes at the expense of the church, priests, and the bible, but the writer/director says that underneath the irreverence, ”Dogma” is a love letter from a practicing Catholic to his God. ”This movie is a kind of kick in the tires of my faith,” Smith said at the festival Friday, anticipating the demonstration. ”If you view God or the church as your friend, as I do after growing up with it… Well, I’m allowed to make fun of my friends. Why should the church be above that?”
Catholic groups, many of whom have not yet seen the film, targeted ”Dogma” a year ago when the script was leaked onto the Internet. They have raised issues with virtually every facet of the comedy, in which two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) try to get back into heaven through a biblical loophole. For these religious groups, the offenses are many: The last descendant of Christ (Linda Fiorentino) works in an abortion clinic; a spokesman for God says Mary had more kids with Joseph after giving birth to Jesus; and a heretofore unknown 13th apostle named Rufus (Chris Rock) says, when asked if he knew Christ personally, ”Knew him? Nigga owes me 10 bucks!”
The protests against the film have escalated to the point where Smith has received death threats from religious extremists. ”Some of these letters you read and just shake your head and say, ‘Wait a minute, is that what Christ said, to come in with shotguns?”’ he said. Such groups as the Catholic League focused so much pressure on Miramax’s parent company, Disney, that Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein eventually sold distribution rights to Lions Gate, which will open the film on Nov. 12.
Months ago, Smith considered meeting with his adversaries, but he came to the conclusion that the attacks weren’t personal — they were simply a way to get attention by slamming Disney, and the ruckus is continuing now mainly because of its momentum. ”If we’d been a Lions Gate movie from beginning to end, the only thing you’d ever have heard about it is, ‘Oh, it’s got the ”Good Will Hunting” guys in it,”’ said Smith. ”But Lions Gate doesn’t have a network and two theme parks. You get a lot of press from attacking Michael Eisner.”
All of the yelling has created a no-win situation for Smith: The picketers have made his movie seem so outrageous that secular viewers might be disappointed that ”Dogma” isn’t irreverent enough. ”It doesn’t help if you have an audience going in there saying, ‘I can’t wait to watch this, I hear it really takes the piss out of the church,”’ he said. ”Then they get in and find out it’s a fairly reverent movie. Boy, are they gonna be pissed.” Well, not TOTALLY pissed: A scene where a robed Cardinal (George Carlin) is called a ”cross-dressing f—” by a pot dealer oughta appease them for a little while at least.