Chris Smith's "American Movie," which took the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at Sundance this year, is sure to draw lots of laughs. Here's this small-town Wisconsin guy, Mark Borchardt, trying to make a movie on a shoestring with the help of some pals, in particular his spacey, shaggy musician friend Mike Schank, while coaxing money out of his frail, bleary 82-year-old uncle Bill Borchardt. These people say and do goofy things from time to time, and they all sound like the people in "Fargo."
For years Borchardt has been working intermittently on "Northwestern," which he describes as about a bunch of guys "drinkin', drinkin', drinkin' "--and which sounds more than a little autobiographical. Early on in "American Movie," Borchardt is forced to abandon the project once again, for the usual reason, a lack of funds. Instead, he resumes work on a supernatural horror thriller, "Coven," shooting in 16 millimeter. Even if he succeeds in completing it, it will have taken him three years to do so. That Borchardt's hero is "Night of the Living Dead's" George Romero is evident in glimpses we get of "Coven." ("Coven" screens tonight and next Friday night at the Nuart at 12:15 a.m., accompanied by 1981's "The Howling.")