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A Spirited Q & A With “Marwencol” Director Jeff Malmberg

A Spirited Q & A With “Marwencol” Director Jeff Malmberg (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

One of the many unshakable aspects of the documentary “Marwencol” is that feeling of discovery, not only of its subject Mark Hogancamp, a man whose recovery from a brutal beating leads him to seek out solace in a World War II-themed dream world he’s constructed of dolls in his backyard, but also of the film’s director Jeff Malmberg, a longtime editor making his feature debut as a director. Malmberg’s Avid skills were surely instrumental in piecing together Hogancamp’s life with a structure that resembles the man’s own memories in a fractured narrative that’s often rich with detail, yet it was the filmmaker’s dedication to and recognition of Hogancamp’s remarkable story over the course of four years that makes it such an enveloping experience, delving into a mind that was once closed off by the comforting limits of the imaginary place Hogancamp’s created for himself to opening up to the possibility that others could appreciate the unique gifts it has to offer the outside world.

01302011_Marwencol2.jpgThat remarkable intimacy was something I alluded to during the film’s premiere at South by Southwest when I wrote in an earlier review, “‘Marwencol’ is a film that never sits in judgment of its subject, a quality that allows for unforced answers to the usually ineffable questions of how art is created, how it can heal and how artists can reconcile their reality to the one that stands outside their door.” It was just the start of a festival run that led to awards in Austin and subsequently Silverdocs, Seattle, Woodstock and Boston, among others. Naturally, that trend towards trophies has continued on to the Spirits where Malmberg has already picked up prizes for the Truer Than Fiction and FIND Your Audience Awards at an earlier ceremony, making a win in the best documentary category just icing on the cake, which we dare say would be a fitting way to honor a film with so many layers.

Why did you want to make this film?

I was at a point where I wanted to try my hand at directing something. As soon as I committed to that idea, I ran across some of Mark Hogancamp’s photographs in the art magazine Esopus. I was immediately captivated by them and by Mark’s story. The article was wonderfully open-ended about what it all meant and as a reader, I had so many questions. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was the subject that I’d been looking for.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

A friend of mine who is a writer told me when I was knee-deep in editorial that when it came to structure the only thing I really needed to do was to stay true to my experience of having met this person and let the audience take that same journey that I was allowed to take. It was advice that came at a time when I was really trying to find my way through hundreds of hours of footage. It sounds so simple and obvious now, but when you’re dealing with a world as rich as Mark’s and you’ve been shooting for years, you’re almost frozen by all the possibilities of where you could go.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

Mark is a person with a lot of layers – both in his real world and his imaginary world. And those layers often intertwine. Every time I went to visit Mark, I’d find out something new that would affect my understanding of everything that had come before. Mark is also someone that was at a bit of a crossroads personally as I was getting to know him. So trying to be true to all those layers and that metamorphosis was a big challenge – and of course, the most rewarding thing, too.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise?

The first screening when it premiered at South by Southwest was a highlight for me. Just watching the audience going on that journey that the film was offering up and feeling them really take Mark into their hearts. You work so long by yourself in a dark bedroom and then one day the movie is born and out in the world – that’s what that first screening felt like to me. I remember feeling both grateful and relieved.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

I really think the film’s score by Ash Black Bufflo is beautiful and very much the emotional core of Mark’s world. To me, the score works so well and provides so much that you’re not really noticing the music at all. Ash Black Bufflo really got where I was going from the beginning four years back – I was getting tracks before I started cutting so the shape of the film really started with that music.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

Finding out how much I really loved the process and experience of making a documentary.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

My favorite films were “The Oath” by Laura Poitras, “Armadillo” by Janus Metz, “A Different Path” by Monteith McCollum, “Paris Return” by Yossi Aviram, “Familia” by Mikael Wistrom and Alberto Herskovits, and “45365” by the Ross Brothers, and my favorite albums were “Foreign Landscapes” by Hauschka, “The Unfazed” by Dolorean, “Dark Night of the Soul” by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, “All Day” by Girl Talk, “Bromst” by Dan Deacon, and “Broken Bells” by Broken Bells.

“Marwencol” is currently playing in theaters across the country – a full list can be found here – and it will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on April 12th. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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