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American Movie (1999)
American Movie: The Making of Northwestern 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, Borchardt's burgeoning alcoholism, and the ineptitude of the friends and family Borchardt hires to staff the production team. The documentary follows Borchardt's 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. In 1996, Mark Borchardt, a blue-collar suburbanite, dreams of being a filmmaker.
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin - Mark Borchardt (himself) is a man possessed by a desire to make movies, budget black & white horror flicks, to be precise. After facing the reality that his current project won't get done before he gets funding, Mark shifts his focus to making money by finishing his previous film. Titled Coven, it's about a substance-abusing writer whose spiral leads him to a self-help group that is less than supportive. As Borchardt struggles through continuous and severe setbacks, the audience comes to understand and care deeply about his passion. He is so charismatic that there may be a temptation to attribute the power of this story to his charm. Greater than this, however, is his tenacious determination at what he says is the critical juncture in his voyage. With the financial backing of his 82 year-old Uncle, seemingly inexhaustible loyalty of his friends and mother, and (quite) a few beers, Mark's core of pure energy just might be enough to fuel a victorious journey - it's certainly sufficient to infuse the audience with inspiration.
Then there's Mike Schank (himself) - musician, (very) recently reformed drug user, and source of some of the best laughs of the year. Friends with Mark since childhood, Mike is as true as they come. He's the kind of person who has somehow managed to hold on to that simple but profound wisdom often attributed to children, that usually leaves us as soon as we stop telling the truth all of the time.
In an odd sort of way, American Movie gave me the same kind of satisfaction that comes from really good down home cooking; neither needs false pretense to make you happy. In fact, it was so good, I'm thinking about going back for seconds.