Image Credit: Albert L. Ortega/PR PhotosWhen he set out to make a horror film called Red State satirizing Christian fundamentalism and ultraconservatism, writer-director Kevin Smith wasn’t just inviting controversy — he was obviously banking on it. Sure enough, by vowing to picket the movie’s Sundance Film Festival debut, the Westboro Baptist Church handed Smith a gift of free publicity nicely wrapped with a bow. Now Smith, never a shrinking violet when it comes to public feuds, is gleefully making the most of the public relations bonanza with a battle of dueling press releases that will climax Sunday evening in competing protests at the film’s highly anticipated premiere.

Last week, the independent Kansas-based church, which is widely deemed a hate group for its extreme stance against homosexuality as well as other religious denominations, issued a press release about its planned protest of Smith’s film, claiming the movie “mocks the servants of God,” branding Smith a “hater of Biblical proportions,” and using an offensive anti-gay slur to attack the “f– -enabling perverts at the Sundance Film Festival.” Days later, Smith (who was a target of similar controversy years ago with his 1999 religious satire Dogma) issued his own mocking press release, calling for a counter-protest at Sunday’s premiere — or, as he put it, “thirty minutes of fun-filled photo opportunities.” “The Harvey [as in Weinstein, presumably] Boys are seeking the aid of the Mighty Thor, hoping he’ll lay down his hammer and instead pick up a protest sign on our behalf, in a Park City battle of the mega-gods!” the release reads. “If he’s in reshoots, we’ll be reaching out to Sigourney Weaver to channel Zuul on our behalf.” In response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-gay sentiments, Smith’s release reads, “God doesn’t hate f— or anyone else for that matter. God saves! Then, God passes it to Gretzky — who roofs that s— top-shelf! Then God and Gretzky high-five and belly-bump, celebrating their hockey prowess. And never once do they give a s— if anyone is gay or not.”

Red State was already one of the hottest tickets at this year’s festival. Now, with Smith planning a public post-screening auction for distribution rights to the film, all the protesting and counter-protesting is certain to make for quite a scene on Sunday evening at the Eccles Theatre. Smith is clearly relishing the moment. Asked on Twitter, “What if they picket YOUR picket?” Smith wrote back, “I hit my FluxCapacitor & party like it’s 1999.”

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