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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.