Sunday, May 31, 2009

American Movie directed by Chris Smith

This documentary featured Mark Borchardt, a Milwaukee film maker, who is striving to make a horror film titled “Northwestern.” It has been his dream since he was young to make a horror film and Chris Smith and Sarah Price document some of his trials to do this starting in the year 1996. This film follows Mark as he writes the film and the slow process towards completion of his work. The film begins with “Northwestern” but changes to include more on Mark’s work on his shorter film “Coven” and his overall life and dreams for his film making. “American Movie” won the 1999 Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

It was not clear to me the intentions of the documentary film makers because they never indicated their goals through interviews and appeared to sit back and let Mark Borchardt tell his story. I was also unsure whether the documentary was a part of Mark Borchardt’s team or another group of people interested in Mark’s story at first. It turned out to be the latter, but I am curious as to how these film makers met Mark and decided to make a documentary about him. The interviews were all done on location with friends and family as well as with Mark Borchardt. This film did a great job of showing the process of making a feature film from the scriptwriting to recruiting cast and crew and the film maker’s agony during the process. It went in linear fashion following the process and added in clips of Mark’s other films. One scene shows Mark working with his mother to film him acting and the viewer sees the camera filming him and then the scene jumps to the film that is shot through Mark’s camera. The viewer sees Mark recording Uncle Bill for the film over and over again and then explaining the process of recording sound to his daughter. It was great to see the subject of the film explaining how a film works to another character in the story. Mark’s friend, Tom Schimmels, was a strong character in Mark’s work and the stories he told shed light on Mark’s childhood and lifestyle.
Besides the interviews there was footage from the film “Coven” that Mark was also working on and footage from “Northwestern” and earlier videos Mark had made when he was younger. The sound in this film was mainly the interviews but also included some music by Mike Schank.

Concerning the subject of the film, an average man’s journey to create a film, the style of the documentary was well chosen. The casual interviews paralleled Mark’s film process. I think the director’s agenda was to portray one American’s dream and show how it did not work out exactly the way Mark wanted it to. Mark was perseverant in the documentary with his goal to make a film as his friends acknowledged, and yet he was still scraping together to make the film and was working jobs he hated. This documentary showed the difficulty of making an independent film and all the details it comprises as well as showed how dreams can take longer than expected to come true.

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