Marwencol – Intermediate

In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside of a bar by five men who beat him nearly to death. After nine days in a coma and forty days in the hospital, he finally went home.   He had suffered brain damage, however, that left him little memory of his previous life.

Unable to afford therapy, Hogancamp tried to heal himself by building a 1/6-scale World War II-era replica of a fictional Belgian town he calls Marwencol.   The tiny town, which sits in Hogancamp’s backyard, is populated with dolls representing himself, his friends, and even his attackers. He rehabilitates his physical wounds by moving and posing the small dolls and props. He tries to heal his mind by having the figures act out various battles and stories. His neighbors and friends were very surprised that some of Mark’s figures are made to resemble them but they are flattered to be a part of his project.

Many people are impressed by Hogancamp’s efforts to build and photograph Marwencol. The amount of detail and hard work that he puts into the town is very impressive. Every single figure in Marwencol has a life story with complex relationships and narratives. Hogancamp himself agrees that his hobby is unusual but it is clear from his interviews that he needs Marwencol to help mend both his mental and physical wounds.

After Hogancamp began taking photos of Marwencol, his pictures were discovered and published by Esopus magazine and even shown in a New York art gallery. But he was reluctant about sharing his therapy with the world. He sees Marwencol as a very private and personal place that he has used to shelter himself from the real world. Marwencol, for Hogancamp, was very safe for him but the sudden publicity from the art gallery and the magazine makes him feel uncomfortable.

In 2010, a director named Jeff Malmberg made a documentary about Mark Hogancamp and Marwencol. The film was nominated for several awards including Best Documentary Film for the Film Independent Spirit Awards and won a Best Documentary award from the Boston Society of Film Critics. Hogancamp continues to build Marwencol and take photos of the stories happening there although he finds his new fame has stolen time away from it.