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Sunday, May 30, 2010

SIFF Sighting: MARWENCOL (documentary; USA)

A brutal attack in the neighborhood bar left Mark Hogancamp in a coma for nine days in August of 2000. When he regained consciousness he had to re-learn all of his basic functions—speaking, reading, writing, etc. His former life was a mystery to him. He had just begun therapy when his insurance benefits ran out and he was forced to improvise. There began a creation of his own making: Marwencol.

In this film of the same title, we take a trip inside Marwencol, a fictional place constructed from dolls and hobby props by Mark himself, aimed at helping him heal. An amateur artist before the attack, Mark retained a gift for creativity and meticulously fashions action figures and Barbies to look like real people in his life. Then, he places the characters in World War II era clothing and situations to have them survive battles, get married, have catfights (girls only) and drink at the local bar. While improving his motor skills, he psychologically goes where many of us only allow ourselves to go when we dream. Fascinating, eh?

The situation is compelling in itself, but what makes the film work are the quality of Mark's creations, his good humor in sharing them, and the non-exploitive way the 'extra' details about his life are revealed.

He was an alcoholic before the attack, now he only drinks coffee; he's still fearful of groups of people and treats his dolls with a special reverence.

Director Jeff Malmberg has done a beautiful job sharing Mark's gifts with the world and documenting an incredibly unconventional road to recovery.

Marwencol screened at the 36th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. It will open in limited release this October, and appear on PBS next spring. To visit Mark's world, visit


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