How do you tell someone else’s story?

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If you’ve been to my other site (now found at you might have seen a glowing endorsement of the documentary film “Marwencol.” I keep a running list of stories and arts by people with brain injuries on that site. Rarely do I want to watch any movie more than once, but this one has been asking me to watch it and admire it again. I’m fixated on Mark Hogancamp and his world in the town of Marwencol. I’m mesmerized by Mark’s photographs of Marwencol. Those are the physical pieces that we think of as art. But I am much more interested in Marwencol itself and the pictures.

One thing I wonder about is how does a documentary filmmaker tell someone else’s story? My filmmaker, Cynthia, has an uncanny knack for it. In both my comedy shorts, she shot the footage and edited it herself. I only came in at the end to see her work and give it the nod of approval, which is easy to give her. With the comedy shorts, she’s looking at the script, observing rehearsals, and having meetings with me. So she understands the purpose of the story I want to tell.

So when it turned out that Cynthia and I both admire “Marwencol” for the same reasons, I knew for sure we were going to be able to mind-meld with each other and with the folks featured in my documentary. Mark Hogancamp has said that Jeff Malmberg (who made his documentary) told Mark’s story just as he would have if he could have done it himself. This is my goal with “The Art of Brain Injury.”

Malmberg does not shy away from raising questions in the film and showing Mark struggle terribly when some arts patrons in New York City show more interest in his photos of Marwencol than in the purposes of that town’s existence. Mark never set out to be an artist himself. It was only when people outside his world came in and called Marwencol photos works of art that he became an artist.

That really makes me think hard about how important it is to let the subject of a documentary tell their own story. Cynthia and I can’t go set up contrived experiences and environments to get people to show off what we want them to show for the sake of the movie. The movie should exist to serve the people in it, not the other way around.

I’m so fortunate that Cynthia is of the same mind. And her goal will be to show folks in the film with the same kind of respect and genuine curiosity that Jeff Malmberg showed for Mark. Artistically, “Marwencol” is absolutely stunning and innovative. And as a piece of storytelling, it gives all the credit to the storyteller himself.