American Movie

Title: American Movie
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Mark Borchardt
Director: Chris Smith

This is a film about the American Dream. Well, not the American Dream but the new, updated, modern equivalent: the dream of being a great film director and creating the next “Night of the Living Dead.” And you don't need to be an American to know about their amateur film culture, where anyone with a camera and an idea can take a shot at it (and usually toss in some tits and a deranged killer and call it a cult slasher classic) and it's one of those things that I love about this modern age: that anyone with the drive and determination can take a chance at filming their dream. (Unless you're Charles E. Cullen of “Killer Klowns from Kansas on Krack” fame. If you happen to be reading this, dude, please stop. You've tried so many times and failed so horribly Uwe Boll is envious). This is the tale of such a man; he's certainly broke and far from the smartest man around, roping in friends and family to star and help behind the scenes in getting his vision onto film, but throughout he has a valid argument. People talk of their dreams but few act to make them happen. Mark Borchardt is not to be one of those people.

And it is Mark himself that really makes this film work. The end result of his hard work never really feels important – quite frankly it could be any old shite – even though he clearly knows what he's talking about, but this documentation of his journey and struggle to get his work made is the legacy he should leave behind. From his days as a teenager with an old camera, taking blurry shots of his friends and creating his first short films all the way to modern times (well, '96 when this film was made) showing the dedication he holds to his art. Friends happily reminisce about the times they were instructed to trash cars with iron bats for sound effects, or to drag him kicking and screaming through a muddy swamp twenty times just so they could get that one shot right, but more than his work that's on display is the man himself.

With an uncle who begrudgingly finances his work as executive producer, and his father – he still lives with his parents – who for years tried to get him to find a 'real job' but after seeing his sons dedication, when times were hard convinced him not to give up hope. His mother too, plays a role in many of his films doing behind the scenes work, working the camera's and doing what she can to help even though she doesn't entirely understand the details of what she's doing (and he doesn't do the best job of explaining it either), as well as his relationship with his children, allowing them to explore his world of their own volition (and when asked if they want to follow in their fathers footsteps, gave a unanimous “no”). It's not only the work on the film that's shown but the juggling act of a difficult personal life and a testing professional life in a career where the two can't not collide. These are the struggles you never hear about when a film is being made.

And naturally whenever things don't go right, comedy emerges. Shots of angrily smashing someones head through a cabinet that just refuses to break, trying to shoot a cold and frostbitten scene in broad daylight in the middle of a hot summers day, and naturally, when it all goes wrong sneaking off for a beer. Or hell, when things are going right. I mean, why not? But as was said in the film, a good director is not necessarily one that manages to get everything right the first time, but one that perseveres even when everything is going wrong, which in the case of Mark seems to be more often than not. It could have all been played as one big joke, one better known documentary film maker mocking another struggling to make his low budget horror, and just as easily it could have turned very heavy and serious with the financial and personal burdens weighing down on our budding director, but it always sticks to a neutral middle ground. This does for amateur film what “Fubar” did for Canadian metal fans, and it may be nearly 15 years old and he may not yet have achieved his dream, but for those few who will see this film he shall still have a legacy.


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