Imagine a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a family portrait being taken, and you have filmmakers Banker White and Anna Fitch’s poignantly intimate bio-doc, The Genius of Marian. The film covers three generations and two separate battles with Alzheimer’s as White pays homage to his mother, Pam, during her diagnosis and the early stages of the disease. At the same time, Pam is writing a novel conveying her own mother’s battle with the same illness.
With each personal interview the filmmakers lead us to connect with the family as they open up their lives during the matriarch’s most vulnerable moments. As the film progresses, Pam’s memory deteriorates, and the anecdotal stories reveal in heartbreaking fashion a woman and her family struggling to keep those memories while also establishing new ones.
Flashbacks to family photos and home video from vacations at the beach, along with images of the grandmother’s watercolor paintings of family members, help to establish a fluid and compellingly visual storyline. White’s love for his family and their efforts to combat Alzheimer’s from one generation to the next clearly motivates his storytelling technique and allows him to connect with his audience.
The slow pacing from shot to shot that White establishes through the editing process mirrors Pam’s own hesitations in her interviews as she tries to piece together her memories and articulate her story. Technically, the artist has created a cohesive film that captures his subject successfully while still allowing her to navigate her own storyline.
Choosing to document his mother’s struggle seems to be almost as therapeutic for White as an at-home nurse is for his mother, but it remains to be seen whether either will see a cure in their lifetime. For now, The Genius of Marian is a loving attempt to immortalize a family, beautifully and movingly rendered.
Playing June 20, 3 PM, at the National Portrait Gallery, and June 22, 6 PM, at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.