In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was beaten into a coma by five men outside of a bar in Kingston, NY. Unable to continue
Book about Marwencol produced by the filmmakers
paying for medical help, Hogancamp began to create a new world in his backyard as a form of physical and emotional therapy during his recovery (which is ongoing). The resulting 1/6th scale Belgian village, named Marwencol, is a fantasy oasis set in the middle of World War II peopled with lifelike dolls, many based on real people in Hogancamp’s life. And this town has, in turn, become the subject of a new documentary of the same name.
The story of Marwencol begins when Hogancamp’s alter ego crash-lands in a European field and is drawn into an almost-empty village by a group of beautiful women. He makes this place his home, beginning a narrative that continues and grows day by day as new dolls and storylines are introduced. This "second" world has rescued Hogancamp, helping him to deal with an attack that still haunts him and keeps him from fully functioning outside the village.
Mark Hogancamp at his White
Columns art show in New York City.
Three weeks ago, when director James Benning was in San Francisco, he spoke briefly about his love for folk artists such as Vivian Girls creator Henry Darger. At the same time he pointed out that we’re too apt to label this work as primitive; the so-called folk art that really rises to the top needs no context, it’s successful in and of itself. While Hogancamp’s story is deeply moving, and in the documentary he comes across as intelligent and endearing, it’s the work itself that elevates the story. Director Jeff Malmberg features Hogancamp's photographs heavily, which is a good choice, especially considering Hogancamp remains reluctant to leave his home, so this is a rare chance to see his images of the town writ large.
|Jeff Malmberg, Director
Marwencol is the well-deserved winner of the SXSW Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature (I predict there will be a screening in San Francisco and other cities soon). Director Malmberg and co-producer Chris Shellen were in attendance in Austin, and were selling a small book of Mark E. Hogancamp’s photographs. This isn't currently available for sale online, but check back at the Marwencol website in the coming weeks.