In 1999, the documentary film American Movie captured the day-to-day struggles of Milwaukee based independent filmmaker Mark Borchardt. At the beginning of the film, Borchardt outlines a feature film he’s struggling to make. That film is called Northwestern, but Borchardt switches gears and decides to finish his short film ,Coven, in hopes that a successfully distributed short will allow him to secure funding and distribution for his masterpiece.
The doc is a classic that pictures Borchardt and his oddball film company in the throes of trying to realize what seems like an impossible dream: to create a great work of art while simultaneously tripping over themselves, their bad habits, troubled lives and the pressures of grinding out a creative life in the midst of working class America.
The doc made Borchardt famous and his finished cut of Coven proves that his dream of being a filmmaker was fueled by real vision and energy all along: The film is shot in starkly contrasting blacks and whites and Borchardt’s spooky framing of the desolate Wisconsin countryside in winter recalls George Romero’s compositions of the Pennsylvania countryside in Borchardt’s favorite film, Night of the Living Dead. And the director’s turn in front of the camera in the lead role of a writer struggling with drugs and alcohol is also commendable.
In the film, Mike is a freelance writer who’s barely making a living. He takes pills to work long hours and drinks so he can sleep. After a close call that lands him in the hospital, a friend convinces Mike to attend a support group meeting. But is the group just the helpful organization they claim to be or something more sinister?