Plot: Have you ever known someone who has their mind set on doing something, and no matter how much goes wrong they just keep pushing ahead, no matter what? This is the story of one such man, Mark Borchardt, who seems to have an insatiable inner drive to make movies. Since he has fourteen, Mark has been making horror films with his friends and relatives. He has bigger dreams however, so no matter how much negative feedback he gets, no matter how much turmoil is present in his personal life, Mark forges ahead, striving to make his dream film, Northwestern. This documentary begins while Mark is in preproduction for Northwestern, but soon he is forced to abandon the project when he realizes his vision is impossible to achieve on the funds he has available. In order to raise money, he decides to finish his short horror film, Coven (pronounced “cohven”) which could sell well enough to fund his dream film. Things are rough from the start, but no matter how bad things seem to be on either side of the camera, Mark pushes ahead and is determined to see his work be completed. But even with his will and desire, can he and the rest of the cast and crew see the project to the conclusion, or will Coven be just another unfinished task in Mark’s life?
Entertainment Value: American Movie is a wild, run look at the ambitions of Mark Borchardt, a man who knows his life has fallen into total disrepair, but refuses to do much about it. His passion for movies is obvious and bleeds into the rest of his life, as he chooses escapism at all costs. The documentary is sympathetic toward Borchardt and leans on his passion and drive, but also shows how his choices have hurt not just himself, but nearly everyone around him. This is shown through his alcoholism, drug use, and refusal to compromise his lifestyle for anyone, including his own children, who take a backseat to his desire to make movies. While he comes off like an entitled asshole, the people around him seem like genuine, compassionate individuals, most of whom want to see Borchardt realize his dreams, despite his behavior. His rants and raves are hilarious, but kind of sad when you remember this is real, not fiction.
While Borchardt is an unlikable central presence here, American Movie is still a captivating watch, especially if you have an interest in indie movies or aspire to make films yourself. The focus tends to be on the personalities involved, but there is also a good amount of time devoted to the nuts & bolts of production, so seeing how Coven comes together can be insightful. This includes preproduction meetings, storyboards, set preparation, the actual shooting experience, and postproduction, not to mention the promotion leading up to Coven’s release. While none of these elements are explored in depth, you get a little taste of the process and the hard work that goes into a movie, regardless of how it turns out. The movie also has a great narrative flow, so even those who don’t normally tune in for documentaries should appreciate this, especially with so much humor involved. American Movie is a terrific documentary and anyone with an interest in cinema should give it a look.