In POV’s ‘The Genius of Marian,’ a Family Rediscovers Its Blessings in the Midst Of Coping With a Devastating Disease, Airing Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 on PBS

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In POV’s ‘The Genius of Marian,’ a Family Rediscovers Its Blessings in the Midst Of Coping With a Devastating Disease, Airing Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 on PBS

Vivacious, Beautiful and Talented, Pam White Faces the Ravages of Alzheimer’s, Just as Her Mother, Marian, Did

“An affecting, lyrical documentary . . . Mixing the past and present . . . the film mirrors the decline of [Pam’s] faculties but affirms the persistence of memory and identity.” — Peter Keough, The Boston Globe

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Pam White was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 61. Credit: Banker White
The Genius of Marian is a visually rich, emotionally complex story about one family’s struggle to come to terms with Alzheimer’s disease. After Pam White is diagnosed at age 61 with early-onset Alzheimer’s, life begins to change, slowly but irrevocably, for Pam and everyone around her. Her husband grapples with his role as it evolves from primary partner to primary caregiver. Pam’s adult children find ways to show their love and support while mourning the gradual loss of their mother. Her eldest son, Banker, records their conversations, allowing Pam to share memories of childhood and of her mother, the renowned painter Marian Williams Steele, who had Alzheimer’s herself and died in 2001. 

Banker White and Anna Fitch’s The Genius of Marian, an Official Selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 at 10 p.m. on PBS’s POV (Point of View) documentary series. (Check local listings.It will stream on POV’s website, www.pbs.org/pov/geniusofmarian/, from Sept. 9 – Oct. 8.

By her own account, Pam White’s early years were a fairy tale. Her father owned a hotel in Cambridge, Mass., and her family lived in it as if it was their castle. Her mother was the renowned painter Marian Williams Steele, who became noted for stunning portraiture and New England landscapes, including lively impressionistic scenes of her family at play at the Gloucester seashore.

In 2008, Pam began writing a book about her mother, The Genius of Marian. Pam started her book because her grandmother was “amazing,” a person whose memory should be “kept alive and not forgotten.” In an uncanny twist, Pam was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s only a year later.

And so the film starts to become the book that Pam may not be able to finish and, beyond that, the story of two remarkable women and their family’s struggle to cherish, preserve and persevere in the face of a seemingly annihilating illness. Alzheimer is often a long and isolating disease process. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.4 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s disease; up to 5 percent have early-onset, which affects people younger than 65. And for the 15 million caregivers, the stress can be debilitating. 

The Genius of Marian follows Pam’s struggles, from early episodes of word fumbling and attempts to hide “memory issues,” to more serious states of confusion and distress, emotional outbursts and increasingly quarrelsome resistance to her care—and caregivers. Then comes helplessness in everyday tasks. Ed, to whom she’s been married for 40 years, patiently bears the brunt of the care and his wife’s frustrations. He manages by remembering “the phenomenal life she’s given me.” In addition to Pam’s eldest son, Banker, her son Luke and her daughter, Devon, and Devon’s own young family all pitch in to help Pam hold on to as much as she can for as long as she can.

Pam sums up who she is in a soliloquy for the camera. “I live for my family and my children,” she says. “And one little glitch is that I have developed Alzheimer’s, and initially I was quite distressed and upset about it, but it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really change anything. So I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful . . . And remembering, keeping, cherishing all the times I had with friends and family . . . it’s all good. No regrets.”

Filmmaker Banker White says, “On the surface, the film is about my family’s effort to come to terms with the changes Alzheimer’s disease brings. But it is also a meditation on the meaning of family, the power of art and the beautiful and painful ways we cope with illness and loss. The last few years have been a roller coaster of emotions, filled with frustration, sadness, joy and celebration.”

The Genius of Marian is a reminder that we don’t often talk about the really important things until we’re in the middle of a tragedy,” says Anna Fitch, co-director and Banker’s wife, “but you don’t have to wait. Alzheimer’s give you the unique gift of time with someone you know you are going to lose. I hope our film will inspire people to connect on an intimate level with everyone they love.”

The Genius of Marian is a co-production of WeOwnTV and Impact Partners in association with American Documentary | POV.

Download photos, embed a trailer and find out more at http://www.pbs.org/pov/geniusofmarian/.

About the Filmmakers:
Banker White, Director/Cinematographer
Banker White is a multi-disciplinary artist based in San Francisco. His projects have been supported by the Sundance Documentary Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Capital, the Tribeca Film Institute, Impact Partners, the LEF Foundation, the BRITDOC Foundation, the Catapult Film Fund, The Fledgling Fund, Cal Humanities and the Pacific Pioneer Fund. He is the director/producer of the documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars (POV 2007), which tells the remarkable story of a group of six Sierra Leonean musicians. The film was nominated by the IDA for best feature in 2006; won grand jury awards at AFI Fest, the Full Frame Film Festival and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival; and earned audience awards at SXSW and the Miami International Film Festival. It was broadcast on POV in North America, HBO Latin America and NHK in Japan, among others. Banker also founded WeOwnTV, a collaborative filmmaking and storytelling project based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Anna Fitch, and daughter, Dylan. Banker received a bachelor of arts degree from Middlebury College in 1995 and a master’s degree from the California College of the Arts in 2000.

Anna Fitch, Producer/Co-Director
Anna Fitch is an Emmy-winning director with a background in natural history filmmaking and a bachelor’s degree in entomology. Her documentary work has aired on the National Geographic Channel, TLC, Channel 4 and PBS. Awards and nominations include the 2003 News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Direction for Living With Bugs: Close Encounters. In 2003, BugWorld: Close Encounters was a finalist in the popular science and natural history category at the Banff Television Festival. In 2011, her narrative short The Burning Wigs of Sedition was in competition at many festivals, including the Seattle International Film Festival, and won a best of festival prize at the Black Maria Film and Video Festival and an audience award at SF Indiefest. Anna lives in San Francisco with her husband, Banker White, and daughter, Dylan.

About POV
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and now in its 27th season on PBS, the award-winning POV is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. POV has brought more than 365 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide. POV films have won every major film and broadcasting award, including 32 Emmys, 17 George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the Prix Italia. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today’s most pressing social issues. Visit www.pbs.org/pov.

Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bertha Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, The Educational Foundation of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.

 

 

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