After a lengthy recovery period following a vicious attack outside a bar in Kingston, New York, leaves him brain-damaged and broke, Mark Hogancamp creates a miniature WW 2 village, Marwencol, populating it with GI Joes and Barbies representing himself, his friends and attackers and photographing it in painstaking detail. When Mark and his photographs are discovered, Mark's homemade therapy is deemed "art", forcing him to choose between the safety of his fantasy life in Marwencol and the real world that he's avoided since the attack.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Extraordinary, astonishing, revealing, unique ... Marwencol (a name made up of parts of three names including Mark...) is a film that offers audiences a compelling insight into the human condition, through one specific example. The story of overcoming adversity is one that fuels storytellers, and the myriad versions of that story all resonate; some stand out, though, as does this one.
Marwencol is a fantasy village somewhere in Belgium during WW2, where Mark Hogancamp now lives. Sort of. He has created it in his backyard in New York state and he has populated it with an assortment of characters from real life - friends and relatives - as well as British, American and German soldiers, not to mention lots of Barbie dolls. They all meet and drink together at the Anchorage bar, where the rules are simple: be nice and friendly to each other. The only group who doesn't abide by the rules is the SS.
But these are no crude toys: meticulously accurate and detailed - lifelike we could say - the figurines are representational yet imaginary, though also real to Hogancamp in a way we begin to understand as the film unfolds.
I won't tell you too much more about the film, because it really is an exploration, an adventure, to experience it. (OK, I'll just tell you this: he has 168 pairs of shoes in a cupboard - women's shoes.) Hogancamp stages stories in the village, which he photographs. These photos are what attracted attention to what is his self administered therapy as he tries to cope with life after his brain was bludgeoned into lockdown some years ago. He is double dipping life by living it through Marwencol, a place where he controls his safety.
Filmmaker Jeff Malmberg has done a wonderful job of bringing this story to cinematic life, avoiding exploitation yet getting closer and closer to the core elements of the man inside Mark Hogancamp. And it's quite moving.
Mark's photos ended up at the White Columns art gallery in New York's Greenwich Village, exhibited as art. If one definition of art is 'something of lasting value' then not only are the photos art, so is Marwencol village.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you're in need of inspiration, this extraordinary documentary by first time director Jeff Malmberg about the power of the imagination is one you won't want to miss. It is the unique story of Mark Hogancamp, who was badly bashed by five men in 2000, resulting in brain damage. After 40 days in hospital, nine of which were spent in a coma, Mark had to relearn the basics - how to eat and walk. But that is not the end of the story.
It is Mark's imagination that becomes his therapy, with his creation of a miniature Belgian town during WWII in which he explores the possibilities through the alter-egos he creates with GI Joes and Barbie dolls. Robbed of his memories, Mark honours the important people in his life by making them a part of the town he has created. Genuinely touching, this portrait of a man who has created his own meaning of life is one you will not forget.
From the outset, the choice of music envelops the film with nostalgia, allowing its soul to flourish. Reflecting the manner in which Mark's memories return to him, we are shown a sequence of photos in which we receive a glimpse of his former life. We learn little about it, except that he had a wife and he was a drunk. As he revisits his journals, replete with competently drawn images, he reflects it is like reading something from the world of Stephen King.
Through the figurines of his own creation, whose looks emulate people dear to him, Mark lives out his dreams, extracts his anger and wonders about the possibilities of life. Malmberg tells Mark's story with the utmost respect and it is up to us, the audience, to grasp the nuances, the profound meaning and consequences that Mark's vivid imagination has granted him. Truly inspiring.
Email this article
CAST: Documentary featuring Mark Hogancamp
PRODUCER: Jeff Malmberg, Tom Putnam, Matt Radecki, Chris Shellen
DIRECTOR: Jeff Malmberg
SCRIPT: Not credited
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeff Malmberg, Tom Putnam, Matt Radecki
EDITOR: Jeff Malmberg
MUSIC: Ash Black Bufflo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: iTunes, Bigpond Movies, Google Play, Foxtel On Demand
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 15, 2012