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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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