Note: This is the fifth in a series of interviews with the makers of some of my favorite documentaries of 2010.
It's almost becoming traditional that there is a documentary each year that is the SXSW breakthrough, a portrait film that comes from nowhere to take the Grand Jury Prize in Austin and then comes to define the new wave of intimate, personal documentary filmmaking. First Jennifer Venditti's BILLY THE KID, then Bill and Turner Ross' 45365, and now Jeff Malmberg's MARWENCOL, the latter a humanistic portrait of a man who, following a massive brain injury, finds himself creating new worlds out of G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls and World War II fantasia.
Malmberg, an editor by trade, came to his debut film the way many novice filmmakers do - a few weekends at a time, shooting a bit and then going back to make enough money to return to shoot some more. Whatever the process, his final product - an intimate and layered portrait of his subject, Mark Hogancamp - would remind of the films and filmmakers that inspired many of us to make nonfiction (from the Maysles to Errol Morris).
We emailed with Jeff about his process, his relationship with Hogancamp and his decision to bypass the Academy Awards.
All these wonderful things: One of the things I love about focusing on documentary each year are the discoveries, the folks who just a year ago were still hard at work tying up the edit on their first film - and then, it seems instantaneous, they are an ingrained part of the community. This is to say that this past year must have felt like a whirlwind to you.
It seems like a natural thing that these discoveries are coming out of SXSW. What do you think it is about that festival, and about Janet, that a.) finds these films and b.) gives them such a good launch?
Jeff Malmberg: I think Janet is really adventurous in her film taste and really brave in what she programs. It’s easy in retrospect to say that MARWENCOL was a good fit for SXSW, but at the time, it was just this strange little movie that no one had stood up for yet. No one knew how it was going to be received, but she brought the audience to it and shined a light on it. I’ll never forget what she said to the audience when it first premiered – “this is why I do what I do.” She walks the walk, man. Same thing with 45365 the year before – this beautiful film that’s not quite like anything else. Plus Janet’s taste seems like the perfect match for that audience which is really hungry for something fresh and new – and doc seems to be flowering that way these days. My wife [MARWENCOL producer Chris Shellen] is doing a panel at SXSW this year so I get to tag along and watch a bunch of films at the Alamo – I kind of can’t wait to experience that festival as an audience member this time around. When I was in it with a film, I didn’t have enough time or headspace to see all the films I should have.
ATWT: I asked you this question when I dragged you up onstage for the A to Z Chat Show in Sheffield, but can you talk some about your festival experiences this year. What was your best experience?