POV: The Genius of Marian

(Rochester, NY) - The Genius of Marian is an intimate and courageous portrait of filmmaker Banker White's 61-year-old mother, who is struggling with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. As importantly, it is a film in which paintings, home movies, photos and current footage come together to depict a family afflicted with Alzheimer's in two generations — and fighting to cope with loss while holding on to its collective memory. The Genius of Marian airs Monday, September 8, 2014 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

Pam White, whose mother died of Alzheimer's, is the center of this story and the family, even as the disease drains her memories and alters her personality. Yet, somehow, through all the comic and tragic incidents that mark the illness's inexorable progress, Pam, her husband and her kids, find something in themselves, as a family, that can't be taken away. Even late in the film, in a lucid moment, Pam says, "This doesn't really change anything.”

In 2008, Pam began writing a book about her mother, titled "The Genius of Marian." Marian Steele had remained a strong, inspiring presence in her family's life until her death in 2001 from Alzheimer's. Pam started her book, she tells Banker, because his 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 after beginning the book.

The Genius of Marian follows Pam's struggles, from early episodes of word fumbling that seem almost funny 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.

Pictured: Banker White & Pam White
Credit: Courtesy of Banker White 



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