American Movie
The Making of Northwestern


Mark Borschardt and Mike Schank: rather unlikely filmmakers from Milwaukee.
dir Chris Smith
with Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Bill Borchardt, Ken Keen, Cliff Borchardt, Monica Borchardt, Joan Petrie, Alex Borchardt, Chris Borchardt
Sony 99/US 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Four years in the making, American Movie is a drop-dead hilarious comedy that can easily stand alongside the slightly similar This is Spinal Tap. Except this film isn't a mock documentary; it's the real thing. And the central figure is one of the most entertaining characters ever put on the big screen.

His name is Mark Borchardt, a wannabe filmmaker in northwestern Milwaukee. We follow him as he attempts to film his pet project, a gritty drama called Northwestern. But he doesn't have enough money to do it properly. So instead he makes the cheesy 35-minute horror film Coven (pronounced KOH-ven, don't ask), which he plans to sell on video to fund Northwestern.

What makes this must-see viewing is the cast. Borchardt's everyday speech is the kind of dialog any author would kill to write--witty, hilarious, utterly open and honest ... and full of Borchardt's tenacious yearning to realise his own American dream. And the people around him are just as compelling (and funny), from his zoned-out buddy Schank (a natural born scene-stealer) to his perplexed Uncle Bill, other family members, childhood friends and even his three kids. And amid the laughter, the film shifts subtly from a making-of movie into a warmly comic portrait of a man who's both larger-than-life and incredibly ordinary.

[15--themes, language] 3.Nov.99
US release 12.Nov.99; UK release 7.Jul.00

Winner: Grand Jury Prize, Sundance 99

dir Mark Borchardt with Mark Borschardt, Tom Schimmels, Miriam Frost, Robert Richard Jorge, Sherrie Beaupre, Mike Schank 97/US 2 out of 5 stars
After seeing in American Movie how it was made, expectations are pretty low for this 35-minute schlock horror flick. So it's surprising that it's extremely well directed (under the circumstances!). It's a black and white thriller about a writer (Borschardt) who attends a self-help group to try and overcome his drinking problem ... but his hallucinating mind begins slipping and he sees the group as a sinister gang of Satanic murderers who want to kill him. The building levels of paranoia are effective, as is the film's creep-out factor. Yet in the end the low budget gets the better of it with some terrible acting (Borschardt is quite good), an awful sound mix and a general lack of logic. [themes, language, gore] --RC, 3.Nov.99

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"This is a hilarious movie that leaves the viewer wondering if they have just witnessed the main subject's (Borschardt) American dream come true ... to make a big time movie. Even though it is Chris Smith that has actually made this film, it is truly Borschardt and his friends/cast that make this movie. I am currently recommending this to any and everyone I know. I did have the question of reality nagging me as I watched this film, thus I was truly curious who the great genius is behind this film. Had these been actors and written script, this would truly be a masterpiece of deception." --Victor Stuhr, net.
[Editor's reply: I can assure you it's not fiction. I met both Borschardt and Smith last year; Borschardt is exactly the person you see on film!]

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall