In 1995, Chris Smith started attending the University Of Wisconsin at Milwaukee's Graduate Film Program. There, he met Mark Borchardt, a seemingly typical long-haired heavy metal partier from Menomonee Falls, the son of blue-collar working class parents and the father of three, himself. But, Mark is not typical. Mark is not satisfied with a succession of low-paying jobs -- a paper route, a gig vacuuming a mausoleum. He will never settle for being another “bitch-ass m*therf*cker” working a 40-hour-a-week factory job he hates. Mark wants to be a filmmaker.
Since he was a little kid, Mark has been making films -- mostly of the horror genre. Mark is now thirty, still living at home and hanging out with the same friends, including Mike Schank, a former stoner who “no longer parties,” but is now addicted to scratch-off lottery tickets. (Schank, an old school heavy metal guitarist, provides American Movie’s soundtrack.) Mark convinces his Uncle Bill to pony up $3,000 so that Mark can complete his horror opus, Coven. (which Mark mispronounces with a long “o” because “coven” sounds like “oven.”)
American Movie is Chris Smith’s endearing portrait of Mark, Mike, family and friends. Smith’s film documents the painful, daunting process of completing Coven and Mike’s singular obsession with not only getting the film in the can, but selling the 3,000 units that will provide the funding for his next film, Mark’s first foray into drama.
Mark Borchardt is a true American hero, a self-taught lover of films and filmmaking, a man capable of overcoming paramount personal crises and escalating financial woes to achieve his goals. At the same time uproariously funny and painfully bleak, American Movie is a brilliant little film about a very personal tale of one man’s ambition, obsession, vision and version of living the American Dream.
American Movie won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.