Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rambling: Festival All Gone (AIFF) And Marwencol.

Yesterday was the last day of the Ashland Independent film Festival. We wimped out and staggered home rather than go to the last two films, but the ones that we did see were great.

I'm being un-systematic again, and just talking about one of them: Marwencol, about Mark Hogancamp's miniature town.

Mark Hogancamp was beaten into a coma by five men outside a bar, receiving severe brain damage that destroyed most of his memories and necessitated re-learning how to walk, eat, and perform other basic functions.

That's the backstory. The film is about Mark's "homemade therapy" - a miniature one-sixth scale World War II Belgian town, Marwencol, populated by dolls and action figures.  He created Marwencol to help himself recover his hand-eye coordination and to regain touch with his imagination - and perhaps to work through the trauma of his situation, though I'm not sure if that was a goal, or a result.

Mark's town is the site of an ongoing storyline that includes alter egos for himself and many of his friends, set in a place where combatants in the war have made a temporary, local peace with one another, defending their friends and their town from outside invaders, building relationships, and spending plenty of time at Mark's alter ego's "cat fight bar".

Mark creates and photographs scenes from his world. And it's an amazing world. Highly colored. Deeply layered. Love. Loyalty. Betrayal. Revenge. Violence. Suffering. Comfort. All that.

He worked on this world and on his photographs for a good long time before being discovered by the filmmaker, and getting a gallery show, and I'm guessing that the website came out of that. He didn't work on it with the idea of a show or recognition - this is art created purely for the artist.

The photos aren't sweet little "awww, isn't it cute?" doll pictures. For example, the website banner is a wedding photo with the couple posed in front of the hanging bodies of SS invaders. There's plenty of violence, death, and revenge, which seems entirely appropriate given Mark's experience.

But there's a lot of human contact going on too. One of my favorite photos from the website is this one of Deja Thoris. (Scroll a bit past the wedding photo.) Is it just me, or are you, like me, leaning forward to read the facial expressions and body language of these mass-produced dolls? Do you, also, marvel at the eye contact between the two characters in the foreground, and wonder what Deja Thoris is thinking, and glance behind them to try to read the expression of the member of the tank crew who's watching them?

Or maybe my favorite photo is this one, with Mark's alter ego receiving support from his friends. Or there's this one, with the women of Marwencol taking matters into their own hands, when Mark's alter ego has been captured. Or the photo of him discovering Marwencol. Or... well, OK, I'll stop. There's nothing to stop you from paging through the whole site if you like it as much as I do.

I find everything about Marwencol - the film, the town, the photos, and Mark himself - fascinating. I'm going to be turning it all over in my head for a good long time.

Image: By Mattia Luigi Nappi. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. What a sad, yet wonderful story! This reminded me of the character in Moon who built a tiny town to help him keep his sanity while working alone for three years on the moon.

  2. Hi, Sylvana! Oh, yes, I see your point. I really like Moon, but I'd almost forgotten about the tiny town.