American Movie (1999)

“That’s what it is all about: rust and decay, ya know. But within that are warm houses and cars.”

Originally released in November of 1999, American Movie, director Chris Smith’s documentary about Wisconsin-based filmmaker Mark Borchardt’s trials in getting his feature length independent movie, Northwestern, made is still a captivating watch. It’s a mixture of passion, pathos, and humor as Borchardt realizes - surrounded by piling debts and mounting personal issues - he has to first get Coven, a short film, made BEFORE his dream project of Northwestern comes to a fruition.

"Full of endearing moments and a hell of a lot of honesty"

And that’s part of why American Movie exists: to gather financial support for his dream project. This documentary is truly blessed, bringing support to his film; his cause; and managing to be entertaining - it is still funny as hell - and inspiring. I remember reaching out to both Borchardt and Mike Shank, his amiable best friend - who also scores the film - and scratch-off lottery ticket addict, by letter and actually receiving a hand-written response thanking me. He is, as the documentary points out, a very passionate individual.

Borchardt is not, as he says in the beginning of American Movie, a loser. His ideas for his horror films are grand and limited only by his lack of funds and the non-professional actors he casts for his roles. Surrounded by his family and his friends - Mike Shank (who has recently passed away) being a big presence throughout Borchardt’s ventures - Borchardt is a beast about filmmaking. He wants to escape his surroundings and dreams big . . . maybe too big because time and time again his inspiration is deflated by the situations he finds himself in . . . and his alcoholism isn’t helping matters either. American Movie (1999)

But, and this is the genius of the film, he doesn’t give up. It doesn’t matter that he can’t pay his bills or that his ex-girlfriend is taking his kids away to another state due to lack of child support payments, he keeps bouncing back with a smile on his face, encouraging his senile Uncle Bill (his financial backer) to dig deep so that Coven, which he continuously mispronounces, can be finished and sent out to distributors.

Anything to earn a buck and get Northwestern completed.

Full of endearing moments and a hell of a lot of honesty thanks to the interviews with his mother, his father, and some of his friends. American Movie is making its debut on blu-ray this month thanks to Sony Pictures Classics. The blu-ray has a cast and crew commentary, deleted scenes, and the original theatrical trailer.

I am not going to EVER be able to give this movie justice. It’s perfect and, if you have never seen it, you are going to have to take my word for it. This is essential viewing for anyone who has ever dreamed about making movies for a living. My only beef with this release is that Sony did not renew their lease to the short film, Coven, so it is not included with the blu-ray which is a HUGE disappointment.

5/5 stars


American Movie (1999)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Available on Blu-ray
- October 18, 2022
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
: English SDH
English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

The hit of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, AMERICAN MOVIE is the hilarious and intense story of one man's obsession to make movies. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is a long way from Hollywood, but Mark Borchardt has a dream. Armed with a driving ambition and nothing to lose, the fast-talking Borchardt enlists friends, local thespians and unwilling family members to help him finish his no-budget horror film, COVEN. The camera doesn't flinch as it captures every emotional crisis and financial pitfall in his two-year odyssey. What emerges is a bizarre, yet surprisingly heartfelt, documentary portrait of a true American character. Welcome to the "Real World."


The 1080p HD 1.33:1 picture is a thing of beauty, with warm sunsets that pop off the screen, while lush, perfectly-lit exterior shots in the Wisconsin cold become the predominant setting. Interiors are dark yet hold detail very well. We noticed no compression issues and, for the most part, it displays much like it originally appeared in theaters. Very solid transfer.


The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track is a thing of beauty as well, but not for the reasons you might think. It isn't loud. It is never bombastic, and it won't knock your picture frames off the wall. It's not that kind of film.



  • The cast and crew commentary is both fun and entertaining. It’s not new, but there was no need to re-record it.

Special Features:

There’s no Coven here. Stop looking. What we do have is a trailer, deleted scenes, and that commentary.

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Trailer

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4.5/5 stars

Film Details

American Movie (1999)

MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug content.
107 mins
: Chris Smith

Mark Borchardt; Mike Schank; Tom Schimmels
: Comedy | Documentary

Memorable Movie Quote: "You gotta watch your teeth too, Cuz they clack a little bit when they loosen up in your mouth."
Theatrical Distributor:
Sony Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 1999 (Sundance)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 18, 2022.
Synopsis: In this cult-favorite documentary, Mark Borchardt, an aspiring filmmaker from a working-class Wisconsin background, is set on finishing his low-budget horror movie, despite a barrage of difficulties. Plagued by lack of cash, unreliable help and numerous personal problems, Mark wants to complete the film to raise funds for a more ambitious drama. With the assistance of his bumbling but loyal friend Mike Schank, Mark struggles to move forward, making for plenty of bittersweet moments.


American Movie (1999)