The American dream dissected

By Stephanie Foster

Mark Borchardt is the ultimate dream chaser. As the subject of Chris Smith’s award-winning documentary American Movie, Borchardt does anything and everything to realize his own cinematic vision.

Borchardt, a thirty-something man from Wisconsin, ekes out a living delivering newspapers and working in a cemetery. He still lives with his mother and can’t pay his phone bill, yet proclaims, "We’re in America today and we’re ready to roll."

American Movie is as much about the American dream as it is about the filmmaking process. It is a funny, profound and often bleak portrait of a man who refuses to let go of his dream. Borchardt’s chief financier is his crotchety Uncle Bill, his sidekick, a stoned musician named Mike Schank, also moonlights as a camera operator, extra, editor, etc.

The film shows the obstacles Borchardt faces, ranging from the humorous (how to ram an extra’s head through a cabinet) to the serious (Borchardt’s own brother believed he would end up a serial killer). Smith deftly balances all of these elements, and each moment of the film feels inspired and heartfelt. And while Borchardt’s determination is endearing, the filmmakers make no attempt to glorify him.

The film chronicles Borchardt’s drinking problem, his failure to support his children, and his manipulation of friends and family to achieve his ends. His edge comes from the abhorrence for the dreary, work-a-day life. He chides regular people, including his own mother, because it seems to make him feel better about his own failures.

These failures are what propel American Movie. Unable to finish his labour of love, Northwestern, Borchardt settles on completing a 40-minute horror film called Coven, ("with a long O," he insists). Inspired by George Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, Borchardt hopes that the success of Coven will allow him to complete the movie of his dreams.

Intertwined with the misadventures of making Coven, are very telling moments such as Borchardt’s drive through wealthy neighborhoods for inspiration. Perhaps the most poignant moment in the film is the image of Borchardt huddled with his mother on the couch, watching the 1996 Academy Awards, the so-called year of the independent film.

The final image of American Movie is of a young Borchardt, looking much like he does at 30, delivering newspapers. American Movie reminds us that the real world has a way of leaving dreamers out in the cold.

American Movie runs Feb. 18-24 at the Plaza Theatre. Directors Chris Smith and Mark Borchardt will be in attendance Fri., Feb. 18 for the 6:30 p.m. showing as part of the kick-off for the Calgary International Film Festival to be held in Fall 2000. There will also be a matinee show on Sat. with American Movie and an exclusive screening of Coven.

Call 283-2222 for details.