Interview to Alan Berliner

By Marta González and Marina Pereda

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Alan Berliner is a filmmaker that challenges himself in every documentary he makes. However, you won’t see him climbing to the highest peak or burning himself on fire. He works with intimate emotions, he narrates the stories nobody would tell aloud, his films are focused on the most delicate relationships someone will ever have: family. In a recent conference in the University of Navarra he said ‘I am worried nobody talks to me again.’

His last film First Cousin Once Removed was presented in Spain last February in the Punto de Vista Festival, and it follows the path that Berliner draw at the starting of his career as a filmmaker: the task of translating from the inside into the outside, from the past into the present, from the footage into the film. First Cousin Once Removed is a film about Edwin Honig, translator and cousin of Alan Berliner who suffers from Alzheimer’s. In this audio clip, Berliner explains how the idea of making a film about him came up.

However, this new film presents a worry Berliner didn’t used to pay so much attention in his previous work: the theme of future. In order to talk about future, he uses more film footage than ever. He needs to have the actual, live images of Edwin. As Bazin used to say, photography embalms time. It seems that due to his family’s historical, Berliner has many chances of losing his memory. Filming could be an attempt not only to preserve his cousin’s memory but also his own. ‘I was making a film about a relationship’, he said in the presentation of the film. And here, he explains why conversations are the basis of this work and how it was to talk to Mr. Honig.

Also, being Edwin a poet, the issues related to language, words and the need of expressing oneself are present in the film. The way in which Berliner shows his cousin to the audience (in a chair, next to a window watching a bird) makes us think of a solitary man where most of his life was happening in his mind, where nobody could access. Even though Mr. Honig had children, Berliner has always been the closest relative to him and sees him as a mentor. In a way, this fact transforms him in a translator to his own family.

This is what Berliner says about his own film and the experience of working with Edwin Honig: ‘… learning when memory is turn away from the bone of the psyching, when memory has turned away from the spine of being… you know, what happened to someone? it’s maybe the closest I ever get to making a film that really captures the fragility of being human.’

If you liked this, maybe you like this post about my visit to Alan Berliner’s studio in New York.

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