This is the seventh year I’ve attended the Sundance Film Festival. And one of the things that make coming back so rewarding — aside from the chance that I might once again experience something close to the sheer terror I had watching the first ever screening of The Blair Witch Project — is catching up with all of the Sundance regulars like Kevin Smith.

Of course, Smith made his name and his career at Sundance in 1994 when his profane little black-and-white cheapie Clerks debuted here. Along with Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, Smith’s debut film became a sort of do-it-yourself blueprint and lottery-ticket talisman to wannabe filmmakers armed with a little talent and even less money. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Smith owes his career to this festival. If it weren’t for Sundance he’d still be selling smokes from behind the counter of a Jersey mini-mart. All the more reason why Smith, who recently completed his sequel to Clerks for benefactor Harvey Weinstein’s new Weinstein Company, should be unveiling his flick here. And yet he’s not.

Smith is in town this year with a documentary he produced called Small Town Gay Bar, a fascinating look at a pair of, you guessed it, gay bars in the Deep South. When I sat down with the artist sometimes known as Silent Bob, I asked him about his debt to Sundance and Clerks 2‘s conspicuous absence…

Tell me about what this festival has meant to you.
Look, I came here with a five-buck-an-hour job and I left here with a career in film.

Where would you be without Sundance?
Hopefully at a six-buck-an-hour job. And we were going to come back. [Festival director] Geoff Gilmore said we could bring Clerks 2 here. No problem; we got a slot for you. And we were done, ready to be here. Ready enough. And then Harvey Weinstein, for whatever reason, put the kibosh on it.

addCredit(“Kevin Smith: Rob Loud/”)

It broke my heart — because, think about the bookend. How poetic it was.

Why did he put the kibosh on it?
He felt like he wanted togo to Cannes instead. Here I was going, ‘We don’t even know if we’regetting into Cannes. Sundance we know we can be in.’ Sundance means alot to me. That’s where my career started. And it’s also my audience.That’s who I preach to. That’s who I write movies for. That’s mymilieu, for lack of a better word. But he felt trying for Cannes wasthe better choice. And I’ll always regret that. And it’s even moreheartbreaking knowing that we’re done and it’s sitting on the shelf. Itwould have been nice. It would have been the sh–, sir.

Well, I guess he writes the checks…
I gotta believe in myheart of hearts he knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing it a lotlonger than I have. But I’ll never understand it for the rest of mylife.