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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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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

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It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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