Welcome to Marwen, inspired by Kingston artist’s life & photography, opens Friday

If you’re among the many Ulster Publishing readers who’ve been rooting for years for Eddyville-based photographer Mark Hogancamp to outlast his demons, the news that a “major motion picture” based on his horrifying/inspiring personal story was being made by Robert Zemeckis may have evoked mixed feelings of excitement and dread. Due to the traumatic brain injury that he sustained after being viciously beaten and left for dead by five guys in a bar in 2000 (because they couldn’t handle the revelation that Hogancamp likes to wear women’s shoes in his spare time), we know that his ability to hold down a full-time job is limited, and that he will probably need regular medical care for the rest of his life. So let’s hope that his agent charged a pretty penny for the rights to his life story.

But we also know that the art-world fame that has already come Hogancamp’s way – especially after Jeff Malmberg’s documentary about him, Marwencol, started winning film festival awards right and left in 2010 – has had a negative impact on his privacy. It’s almost tempting to hope that the new feature film, Welcome to Marwen, will come and go quietly, so that admirers will leave the guy alone to get on with his work/therapy: building and photographing backyard GI Joe-scale dioramas of a fictional Belgian town in which sadistic Nazis inevitably get their butts kicked by a squad of badass women, all based on real-life friends of Hogancamp. And if his most famous earlier work, Forrest Gump, is any indication of Zemeckis’ likely approach, it’s a legitimate worry that Welcome to Marwen may turn out to be a trifle too schmaltzy.

Hogancamp at work

The director has reportedly taken many liberties, making Welcome to Marwen more of an “inspired by” movie than a “based on” one, and freely wielding motion-capture animation to bring the World War II fantasy town, its inhabitants and occupiers to life. Feeling inspired by Mark Hogancamp’s creative response to anger management and the unaffordability of healthcare in America can’t be such a bad thing, though, can it? Here in the artist’s larger Hudson Valley backyard, I suspect many of us will want to show our support and cheer him on by seeing the new movie. While we’re at it, we should also probably check out the documentary, the 2015 coffee-table art book Welcome to Marwencol by Hogancamp and Chris Shellen (Princeton Architectural Press, 2015) and his photos on exhibit at One Mile Gallery on Abeel Street in Kingston.


Welcome to Marwen is scheduled for wide release this Friday, December 21. Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) is the screenwriter; Steve Carrell stars as Hogancamp/Captain Hogie, with a supporting cast that includes Eiza González, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monáe and Merritt Wever. Catch it at a theater near you.

To read more about artist Mark Hogancamp, visit some of our previous articles here or here.