American Movie


Directed by
Chris Smith
Produced by
Sarah Price
Edited by
Jun Diaz & Barry Poltermann


American Movie has proven itself to be an enduring classic of documentary filmmaking. The film documents the making of Coven, an independent short horror film directed by Wisconsin-based filmmaker Mark Borchardt. Produced for the purpose of raising capital for Northwestern, a feature film Borchardt intends to make, Coven suffers from numerous setbacks, including poor financing and the ineptitude of the friends and family he enlists as his production team. The documentary follows Borchardt’s filmmaking process from script to screen, and is interspersed with footage from both of Borchardt’s developing projects.

The film was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, it 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 and won the 2016 Cinema Eye Honors Legacy Award.

On the northwest side of Milwaukee, Mark Borchardt dreams the American dream: for him, it’s making movies. Using relatives, local theater talent, slacker friends, his Mastercard, and $3,000 from his Uncle Bill, Mark strives over three years to finish Coven, a short horror film.

Meet Mark Borchardt, the funny, garrulous subject of the not-to-be-missed documentary American Movie. He’s someone you won’t soon forget. He has dedicated himself to making a no-budget black-and-white horror film that features homemade scarecrows and primitive acting, one that’s not about to rival The Blair Witch Project in anything but the expletive department.

But that doesn’t matter. The point is that Borchardt cobbles together this project as if his life depended on it, because it does. Insightfully and stirringly, not to mention hilariously, American Movie shows why.

Janet Maslin
New York Times