Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank
Director: Chris Smith
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: May 23, 2000
Weve seen what the right filmmakers can do with a measly
budget. We think of films like Clerks or The
Blair Witch Project, each made for a paltry sum of about $25,000. But what if your budget was considerably less than
about $3,000? Well, you couldnt pay very many people a
wage on that, so youd better hope that your spirit, leadership, and dedication are
up to the challenge.
American Movie is not that
low budget film I mentioned, but rather, a very compelling, interesting, and funny
documentary about a fellow trying to make said film.
That man is 30 year old Mark Borchardt from Wisconsin, whos spent his entire
life trying to make movies. Hes a long
way from Hollywood, in more ways than one.
In the opening titles, this picture purports to be about the making
of a feature film called Northwestern, which is
Marks dream project, and probably a semi-autobiographical film. But theres no way he can realize his dream
on such a pittance of money to work with. His
entrepreneurial idea, then, is to finish a short horror film that has been on and off the
burner for several years, a black and white 16 mm picture called Coven, which, according to him, rhymes with
woven instead of oven. He
figures if he can sell 3,000 copies at $14.95 apiece, hell make enough to pay back
his Uncle Bill and begin work for real on his feature.
(In case youd like to see how well Mark is doing, go to www.americanmovie.com for up to date tallies on
his video sales!).
Marks Uncle Bill is a trip.
Hes an old fellow with a supposedly rather large stash of money that
hes not to keen on parting with. Mark
makes the sales pitches with enthusiasm to him, as though his uncle were some Hollywood
So, how do you go about making a film with so little cash? Get all your friends and family to pitch in and
help. Most of who end up in the picture
include Mark himself and all those who happen to be around him. His stoner buddy Mike plays the music. His mother often ends up working the camera,
despite her protests that she has other things to do.
Its not the ideal way to realize your vision, perhaps, but when the
circumstances call for it, the determined people like Mark make do, and make it work the
best they can.
Some of the glimpses into Marks personal life are fascinating,
too. In his room are books and videos by his
favorite filmmakers, including Kubrick and Bergman. He
knows his art form. Apart from his passion
for making movies, we also learn that Mark has plenty of other financial troubles. Bills piling up, credit card debts, owing back
child support. He feels this picture is his
last chance, and he adamantly claims, I will NOT fail.
Mark, however, may be one of those hapless many whos passion
far outweighs his actual talent
Ill let you be the judge of that. But as far as this documentary goes, you
cant help but be caught up in the saga of the little film that could, and the heart
of the man trying to overcome all obstacles to get it done.
I cheered for him, and Ill bet most audiences will do the same. We all want to believe that hard work and
dedication can make our dreams come true despite all odds.
This is a full frame presentation, and though not meant to be
reference quality, plays out with no real complaints.
I noticed nothing in the way of compression or color bleeding, and only small
instances of grain, common with low budget film stock.
The look is not the attraction here, but it serves the mood of the movie well.
Again, the soundtrack is not meant to be reference quality. It is a simply Dolby digital stereo mix. Music and dialogue are always clear, and
thats all you can ask for. Theres
really not much in the way of dynamic range or channel splitting here. In other words, no major complaints, but nothing
to get excited about, either.
The best feature on the DVD is the inclusion of the short film Coven, which youll definitely want to take a
look at after seeing the main attraction. On
top of that are several trailers for this and other films, an audio commentary by the
filmmakers with Borchardt and Schank, and some deleted scenes.
American Movie is a testament to that drive to succeed when failure seems eminent, and the unwillingness to back down or give up simply because the road to completion is lined with quicksand. Mark Borchardt may never get to finish his dream movie Northwestern. But if he doesnt, well all know that it took a hell of a lot to beat him down from it.