Reviewed by GREG KING Documentary Director: Chris Smith.
The trailer for this low budget, independently financed documentary made it appear as if American Movie was a po-faced piss-take on the making of The Blair Witch Project. But it is so much more. The brainchild of Chris Smith, American Movie is a journey through the frustrations and anguish of the low budget film maker. It is enough to either inspire all young hopeful film makers that hope and naiveté can eventually triumph over adversity and inexperience, or else it will send them and their cameras packing fearing that the task of making a low budget film is almost impossible in today’s climate.
Smith documents the trials and tribulations of Mark Borchardt, an aspiring young film maker from Wisconsin, as he tries to get his masterpiece Northwestern up and running. To raise the finance for his feature film though he first has to complete work on his short film Coven and then sell 3000 units on video.
American Movie is an up-close and intimately personal portrait of Borchardt’s struggle, both financially and spiritually, to achieve his dream. This film was nearly three years in the making, as Smith followed Borchardt around, recording his frustrating efforts to complete his film without compromising his vision or artistic integrity. We follow Borchardt through film festivals, trying to hype interest in his project, as well as his endeavours to cast and complete his short horror film. When the going gets tough, Borchardt’s relatives, including the unforgettable 82 year old Uncle Bill, come to the rescue, with funding and physical assistance.
But the most amazing character we meet here is Mike Schank, who has provided the film’s music as well as doubling as a production assistant. If anyone can come close to stealing a documentary then it is the intriguing Schank, whose deadpan style and earnestness are unforced yet endearingly hilarious. The film also blurs the distinction between the film maker and his subjects, as Smith and Borchardt become friends off camera, adding yet another more intimate dimension to the documentary.
So cleverly put together is this off beat film that, at times, it is hard to tell whether American Movie is the genuine article or yet another of the increasing series of mock documentaries (like Bigger Than Tina, etc) that have recently hit our screens. The background notes certainly make it appear real!
Throughout the film Smith displays a dry and very droll sense of humour, although not everyone will find the film particularly funny. American Movie has an almost unstructured narrative style and many self indulgent passages that will probably appall as many as it pleases. American Movie will not be to everyone’s tastes. This is a film that you will either love or hate!