Review: ‘American Movie’

Hot Docs 2016

2 mins read

American Movie
(USA, 107 min.; 1999)
Dir. Chris Smith
Programme: Special Presentations (Cinema Eye Legacy Award Screening)


Greek tragedies were fueled by flaws, with self-delusion, hubris and denial of the underlying causes for the downfall of a protagonist. In the American myth, where everyone who works hard can succeed and where notions of pursuing happiness are enshrined in the country’s founding documents, the same tragic flaws that befell the ancient Greeks are the ingredients that allow the hero’s journey to be possible.

There may be no more heroic journey from a more delusional character, thus no more American story, than American Movie. Tracing Mark Borchardt’s laudable, at times risible, drive to craft his independent horror film Coven (pronounced “koe-ven”, not “kuh-ven”), Chris Smith’s film is sympathetic and revealing of the madness that is artistic drive.

Smith’s gift is to never overly chide his subject, simply letting the events that transpired during the making of this witchy indy film play out. Along the way, we meet a veritable menagerie of dreamers and enablers that provide the documentary with much of its charm.

A testament to fortitude, and a genuinely entertaining film, American Movie remains a peerless feature doc. 17 years after its initial release, it remains a vital part of the non-fiction canon, a warm look at artistic folly that speaks to the delusional dreamer in all of us.

American Movie screens:
-Sunday, May 8 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 9:00 PM


Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.


Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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