Mark Borchardt has been making movies in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, since he was 14 years old. His stoner friend Mike Schank loves working with him, along with an odd assortment of other actors and acquaintances. Unable to finish the financing for "Northwestern," his big project, 30-year-old Borchardt talks his uncle Bill into investing $3,000 to complete "Coven," a horror film.

This cantankerous and often zany documentary directed by Chris Smith vividly conveys the magic, the frustration, and the pressure of independent filmmaking. Borchardt swings between high enthusiasm for the project and deep depression over his financial worries. In one of the most telling scenes, the director curses all those who are enslaved to meaningless jobs. Meanwhile he is forced to deliver papers at one point and later to work at a cemetery. Borchardt's brother thinks he should give up and take a job at a factory. His mother helps her son throughout the filmmaking process and says on camera that she hopes all his dreams come true.

American Movie salutes Borchardt's determination and it also shows how the process of making a movie stitches the lives of people together in a special way. Best of all, Borchardt's relationship with his ailing and elderly uncle helps keep the old man alive.