Release dateNovember 5, 1999 Similar moviesHalloween, The Boy Next Door, American Gangster, Sexual Chronicles of a French Family, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The Hot Nights of Linda
In this cult-favorite documentary, Mark Borchardt, an aspiring filmmaker from a working-class Wisconsin background, is set on finishing his low-budget horror movie, despite a barrage of difficulties. Plagued by lack of cash, unreliable help and numerous personal problems, Mark wants to complete the film to raise funds for a more ambitious drama. With the assistance of his bumbling but loyal friend Mike Schank, Mark struggles to move forward, making for plenty of bittersweet moments.
American Movie is a 1999 documentary directed by Chris Smith. The film chronicles the real 1996-1997 making of Coven, an independent horror film directed by an independent filmmaker named Mark Borchardt. Produced for the purpose of raising capital for another film that Borchardt intends to make, the epic Northwestern,Coven suffers from numerous setbacks, including poor financing, a lack of planning, Borchardts burgeoning alcoholism, and the ineptitude of the friends and family Borchardt hires to staff the production team. The documentary follows Borchardts filmmaking process from script to screen, and is interspersed with footage from both developing projects. American Movie was produced by Sarah Price, edited by Jun Diaz and Barry Poltermann and directed by Chris Smith. Filming for American Movie began in September 1995 and concluded in August 1997. The film was a critical success upon its debut and went on to win the Grand Jury prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, and has since gone on to become a cult film.
AMERICAN MOVIE is the story of filmmaker Mark Borchardt, his mission, and his dream. Spanning over two years of intense struggle with his film, his family, financial decline, and spiritual crisis, AMERICAN MOVIE is a portrayal of ambition, obsession, excess, and one man's quest for the American Dream.
In 1996, Mark Borchardt, a blue-collar suburbanite, dreams of being a filmmaker. However, he is also an unemployed, deeply indebted, borderline alcoholic who still lives with his parents and is estranged from his ex-girlfriend, who is threatening to revoke custody of their three children. He acknowledges his various failures but aspires to one day make more of his life.
In an attempt to jump-start his amateur film making career, Mark restarts production on Northwestern, a feature-length film Mark has been planning for most of his adult life. Initially, the project attracts some interest from the group of amateur actors with whom Mark produces radio plays, but by the fourth production meeting, almost no one shows up and Mark is forced to acknowledge that he currently lacks the resources to ever move Northwestern past the pre-production phase.
In an attempt to drum up the attention and financial resources needed to film Northwestern, Mark decides to finally complete Coven, a horror short that he began shooting on 16mm film in 1994 but ultimately abandoned. Mark receives financing from his uncle Bill, a wise but increasingly senile eighty-two-year-old retiree who lives in a dilapidated trailer despite having nearly $300,000 in his bank account. Bill hesitantly agrees to invest in Coven with the goal of selling three thousand VHS tapes, which he hopes will raise enough capital to finance Northwestern.
Mark restarts production on Coven but suffers numerous mishaps. Although he is hard-working and knowledgeable about film making, he is also poor at planning ahead and inarticulate as a director. Additionally, Mark builds his production crew out of friends and neighbors, many of whom are incompetent at the tasks to which Mark assigns them. Particular attention is given to his best friend (and one of the only adept members of the crew) Mike Schank, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who is in charge of scoring Coven. Although the two bonded over their shared alcoholism, Mike has coped with his own addictions by joining Alcoholics Anonymous and by becoming a compulsive gambler; in between work on Coven, Mike goes to the gas station to buy lottery tickets, sometimes accompanied by his AA sponsor, who then drives them both to Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
As production goes forward, Mark faces the skepticism of his family and his own burgeoning alcoholism. At Thanksgiving dinner and, later, a family party to watch Super Bowl XXXI, Mark gets drunk and becomes aggressive to his family and friends, and his girlfriend briefly leaves him. Later, a wistful Mark watches amateur footage he shot of Northwestern in 1990 and contemplates whether or not he is a failure.
Mark finally wraps production of Coven and it premieres at a local theater in 1997. Marks family and friends are happy that the project has finally been completed. In the final scene, Mark goes to visit Uncle Bill and discusses the prospects of future fame and wealth. Bill responds by advising Mark to focus on spiritual matters and bringing happiness into other peoples lives.
The closing text reveals that Bill died shortly after in 1997, and left Mark $50,000 in his will to help finance Northwestern.
Awards and reception
The film was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, American Movie was named by The New York Times as one of the “1,000 Greatest Movies Ever Made” and the International Documentary Association named it as one of the top 20 documentaries of all time. In addition, the film was positively reviewed by various media outlets. Filmmaker James Rolfe of Cinemassacre.com, best known as the Angry Video Game Nerd, named American Movie as his 10th favorite film of all time, calling it "my filmmaking bible." In addition, the film topped Rolfes list called "Top 5 Movies About Making Movies".