Dir: Jeff Malmberg. US. 2010. 84mins


The probe of a savage street attack becomes a study of art as therapy in no-budget Marwencol, the doc winner at SXSW and also screening at Karlovy Vary. Jeff Malmberg’s irresistibly intriguing debut has made him an instant star on the indie scene.

Malmberg’s approach is scrutiny rather than celebration.

Marwencol will ride critical acclaim as it collects prizes in festivals around the world.  Beyond arthouse theatrical releases, its afterlife in the art museum circuit will be long. This indie doc won’t break out into a huge public, but television should widen its exposure and win Malmberg far higher budgets for his next project.

Marwencol’s extraordinary story explains its appeal. Mark Hogancamp is beaten and left for dead by thugs outside a bar in Upstate New York.  Awoken from a coma, he’s lost his memory and dependency on drink. Yet without insurance or cash he can’t afford medicine or therapy.

A poster child for US health care’s failures, he devises his own treatment, constructing and photographing an imagined World War II Belgian mini-village called ‘Marwencol’ with American G.I. dolls (and local Barmaids) who battle with Nazi figurines. When a Manhattan gallery exhibits this cosmology, the art world lauds a new naïf. 

Malmberg’s approach is scrutiny rather than celebration. Hogancamp leads us through his marginal alcoholic existence before the attack, and we witness the world of Marwencol emerge, methodically yet inexplicably.

Malmberg, also the DP, films the figurine ensembles with the discerning eye of a connoisseur. Contrasting Hogancamp’s delicate creations with the blurred events of the still-ambiguous beating in tawdry Kingston (NY), Marwencol seduces the audience into the mystery of creativity as we watch work by rare talents (artist and filmmaker) take shape.    

Production companies: Open Face, Different by Design

International Sales: The Film Sales Company, www.filmsalescorp.com

Producers: Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen, Tom Putnam, Matt Radecki, Kevin Walsh 

Cinematography: Jeff Malmberg

Editor: Jeff Malmberg

Music: Ash Black Bufflo