This has been a busy year for artist and filmmaker Banker White (2008 Film/Video). On September 8, PBS will air his documentary The Genius of Marian, a portrait of his family’s struggle to deal with his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. As he continues to work on his Creative Capital project, WeOwnTV—which helps young filmmakers in Freetown, Sierra Leone hone their craft—Banker has experienced firsthand a recent outbreak of the Ebola virus. We decided to check in with Banker to get his thoughts on his upcoming documentary, and what’s going on in Sierra Leone.
Alex Teplitzky: The Genius of Marian follows Pam White, your mother, as she begins to write a book about her own mother, Marian. A year after beginning the book, Pam is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and so the film picks up where Pam’s book may not be able to finish. As a filmmaker, do you see yourself as creating almost a prosthetic form of memory which empowers people to remember?
Banker White: Well, when I pressed record for the first time for this project that was absolutely the intention, but it was done for very personal reasons. My mother’s book project was the point of departure, the deep desire to memorialize someone we love and to connect with the difficult and complex emotions that surround losing them.
I moved back to the Boston area in 2009 with my mother and father to help out just after her official diagnosis, and working on the book was our daily activity. We looked at old pictures, watched old movies, and talked about and relived many memories. I also learned a lot about my mother’s life that I never knew—mostly in the details. I knew her folks were divorced while she was in high school, but never talked with her at length about it. Right after my mother’s diagnosis she was really paralyzed and depressed by the shame and she never talked about her own dementia, but this daily activity seemed to open her up. Talking with me and doing video diary entries became a kind of confessional for her. The project grew to be more about her own diagnosis and how it was affecting our family.