Marwencol Is A Whole New World
Mark Hogancamp was viciously assaulted by five men outside a bar in his hometown of Kingston, N.Y. in the spring of 2000 and spent nine days in a coma. After regaining consciousness, the 38-year-old had no memory of his previous life and had to learn how to do the things that the rest of us take for granted all over again. Marwencol, a 1/6th-scale World War II-era Belgian town that he created in his backyard as self-administered therapy, is his story.
Hogancamp populated Marwencol with dolls that represented his alter-ego, friends, family members, attackers and others, and came up with storylines to help him cope with his pain and avoid the outside world that he still sometimes fears. He eventually started photographing these scenes, and the detail and realism of the shots started to catch people's attention — including an art magazine editor, the curator of a New York City gallery and filmmaker Jeff Malmberg.
The director shot Marwencol over four years, and his documentary tells a touching, sometimes disturbing and occasionally funny story of a man who plays with dolls.
Towards the end of the 83-minute film, which has an intriguing twist part-way through, Hogancamp admits that he prefers to live in Marwencol over the real world.
While I find myself pulling for Hogancamp so he can re-integrate himself more fully with human society and financially take advantage of his talents, this beautifully made film makes me realize that a big part of what makes him so compelling and unique might be lost if he did. And that seems like something he's not willing to sacrifice at this point.
As Marwencol's tag line says, "If you aren’t accepted in the real world, create your own."
Marwencol premiered at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, where it won the Grand Jury Award for best documentary feature. It also won the Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Film Competition for best documentary at the Cleveland International Film Festival and the Special Jury Prize for best documentary at the Independent Film Festival of Boston.
Marwencol and Malmberg, who was on hand at Tuesday night's Canadian premiere at Toronto's Isabel Bader Theatre and answered questions after the screening, both received rousing ovations when the lights came up. It wouldn't be surprising if the film won another prize as part of this week's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. I doubt that I'll see many films better than this over the rest of the year.
Marwencol will receive a second screening at 1:30 p.m. on May 6 at Toronto's Cumberland Cinema 3.
The documentary will also be shown at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 30 and 31 and at the June 17-27 Los Angeles Film Festival.
You can visit Marwencol at www.marwencol.com.