This is where American Movie, the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary directed by Chris Smith about Mark Borchardt, a 30-year old man from Wisconsin with not a dollar to his name and a movie in his head that he has to make or he’ll die, becomes important to me. First, let’s briefly discuss the movie. Mark has a script for a personal film he’s been writing and planning for years called Northwestern. While he tries and tries to get that off the ground, he perpetually runs into roadblocks. He takes a deep breath and determines that before he can begin work on Northwestern, he’ll instead try to finish his short horror film Coven. Mark can’t make it alone, so he enlists the help of his mother, his buddy Kenny, and his best friend Mike Schank, whose every line is gold. He convinces his crusty old uncle Bill to give him three thousand dollars to help fund the movie, and finds people throughout the community willing to devote their time to a project that Mark believes in with every fiber of his being. We watch Mark plan, fail, succeed, fail again, stumble, fail, fail, fail, then get back up. He never quits. This drive that he has, along with an unbelievable cast of characters, make American Movie one of my all-time favorite movies and the most quotable documentary I’ve ever seen.
To be fair, it’s not like anyone is asking me about my filmmaking “career.” That stopped years ago. I, however, ask myself daily about it. It haunts me, but I still haven’t done anything about it. Yet. This leads me to movies like American Movie.
I personally find Mark inspirational and I know Chris Smith does as well. Here’s a man that will drive out to an airport parking lot to work on his script for hours in his heatless car so he can do so in peace. He delivers newspapers and cleans the shit off of bathroom walls of a cemetery to help fund his project. Mark is a man that inspires the people in his life, most of whom find themselves working hard for no money, not because they believe in the movie, but more so because they believe in Mark and want to see him complete his film that he refuses to give up on.
I’m not implying that there aren’t people in my life willing to help me; it’s quite the opposite. The fact of the matter is I haven’t given them reason to do so yet. American Movie makes me want to change that. American Movie makes me want to become a filmmaker like I’ve always dreamed of being. Whether I make a film one day or not, I know that the fire inside of me to do so will never completely burn out, and American Movie is the film that stokes that flame when I need it to burn brighter.