This film follows independent filmmaker Mark Borchardt, and his attempts to fund and finish horror short “Coven”. It also stands as a quietly affecting study of friendship, faith, and second chances.
Some facts about Mark Borchardt: he qualified for the gifted schooling system in his native Milwaukee. He dropped out of high school. He has been making films since the age of twelve (sample title: “The More the Scarier IV”). His brother believed he would grow up to be “a stalker, or murderer - or do something where he would try to plan someone’s death, you know”. An autodidact, he is, in his own words, “a failure...this time it’s most important not to fail, not just to drink and to dream but rather to create and complete”. This opening statement of intent provides us with an early clue to the films central leitmotif: the redemptive power of the American Dream.
It’s presumably Borchardt’s keenly felt need for this particularly Western brand of salvation that armours him with his almost supernatural levels of self-belief – a personality trait that proves invaluable when attempting to persuade his friends and family to part with their spare time and money: meet octogenarian Uncle Bill, seduced into stumping up funds for the production after being presented with photographs of possible (and conveniently pretty) female cast members; genial Mother, unwilling extra, and trainee camera operator Monica; and, possibly the true hero of the piece, Marks best friend, ex party-animal Mike Schank. Whether cheerfully discussing the merits of scratch cards over alcohol, playing guitar blindfolded (he also provides the incidental music for the film), or simply slurping on a beer-substitute-soda, he remains a wonderfully benign presence throughout, and serves as the warm, calm heart to Borchardt’s manic mind.
Great credit must go to editors Jun Diaz and Barry Polterman for their consistently neat work: every last drop of humour (of which there is much) and pathos is extracted from the 70+ hours of footage Smith filmed – scenes are often structured like an elegant joke; build, followed by underplayed punch line. What’s crucial, however, is that at no point are we encouraged to mock anyone concerned. A lesser filmmaker would’ve chosen to offer the viewer an ironic wink, to poke fun at Borchardt’s unfashionable haircut, or provincial accent, but every scene here is handled with honesty, and filled with obvious affection for its subjects.
By the end of the film, Borchardt seems less of a deluded no-hoper, and more a victim of circumstance. His commitment and passion cannot be doubted, and there are signs of an unvarnished talent beneath his slightly eccentric persona. Most importantly, he believes in something. And how many people can you say that about? As his stoic, fittingly named father, Cliff, states:
“Columbus took a chance. Lindbergh took a chance. Have faith”.
Indeed. Please go buy this film. And then go create something of your own.