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The independent filmmaker should be considered one of the tragic heroes of our time. They put in years of their lives, untold numbers of hours and put themselves in tremendous debt all in the pursuit of making a film that will most likely be completely forgotten before it even comes out. For every Evil Dead, Bad Taste or Clerks there are thousands of indie films that just end up getting lost in the shuffle. The incredible documentary American Movie is the tale of just one of those tragic stories.

Mark Borchardt is just such a tragic figure. He has dreams of making it as a filmmaker and breaking away from the life of a typical worker in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. After making a few short horror films with his friends, he decides to start working on his dream project: a film known only as Northwestern. Unfortunately, due to a lack of money, problems with his family and the fact that Borchardt himself may be more than a little disturbed, the project stops and Borchardt instead seeks to finish an old short film called Coven.

The film puts us in the trenches with Borchardt and his cast and crew as they scout locations, attempt to raise money (including a $3000 loan from Mark's uncle Jim) and listen to Borchardt talk... and talk... and talk about how awesome this film is going to be once it's completed. We also get to meet some of the people in Borchardt's life, most notably, his best friend Mike Schank who is so optimistic and eager to help that we can't help but fall in love with him and the aforementioned Uncle Bill who is the real highlight of the film. Mark's enthusiasm coupled with Uncle Bill's world-weary realism make for a perfect balance. Uncle Bill also gets the biggest comic highlight in the film when Mark needs to shoot thirty takes for a scene where Uncle Bill only has to say one line! It's a classic moment of awkward humor that would make the cast of The Office cringe in embarrassment.

In the end Mark Borchardt does finish Coven and we get to see its big premiere. After watching it now all I can say is "that's it?". After three years of grueling work and an untold amount of dedication, we're left with a film that is at best, decidedly average? Just another short horror film to add to the hundreds that are released every year? Well ... yes, but it doesn't matter because Coven is Borchardt's film, dammit! And that's what's important. My favorite scene in the film is where Mark watches the 1997 Academy Awards with his family and Billy Crystal announces that that year is the year of independent films. Nuts to that! Those rich phonies don't know what independent films are. Movies like Coven and by extension, American Movie are the real independent cinema and without an equal number of dreamers and lunatics, it wouldn't exist at all.


★ ★ ★ ★ ½