AFI Docs Review: “The Genius of Marian”

Filmmaker Banker White captures both his family’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease and his mother’s unique spirit.
Image from The Genius of Marian via AFI Docs.
Image from The Genius of Marian via AFI Docs.

Imagine a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a family portrait being taken, and you have
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


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