By Jef Dinsmore on Sep 24, 2013 to Documentaries


Overview: In FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Alan Berliner’s paints a deeply personal portrait of his “good friend, cousin and mentor” as Edwin Honig, critically praised author of numerous books and poetry known around the world,  journeys through the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. A stark reminder of the profound role memory plays in everyone’s life, this moving essay shows the fragility of being human.

 Expectations: TDocs_firstCousinPosterhis documentary is going to impact me as it touches home for me. I too lost a relative of intelligence and worldly knowledge to the thief known as Alzheimer’s disease. He was an uncle who was cared for by family and lost his life half a dozen years or so after he lost his memories. So, surely this film will move me but in what ways I am not exactly sure.

 Most people, I think, gravitate to certain documentaries because they can relate to them. I mean, unless you are getting compensated for watching them why would someone watch a documentary such as this one. It could be because the viewer is in the medical profession dealing with geriatric care or works in a care home. Or, like me, they have dealt with the issue at hand in their home life. I know FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED will be worth my time.  My task here, however, is to comment on this documentary and tell you whether I think it is worthy of your time. That all depends on the approach, facts and message this documentary imparts. I’ll let you know.

Gut Reaction: Like memories this piece meanders but that is the only negative thing I can say about it. It might not engross the viewer who is not interested in how the mind may work or curious about the life of a stranger. It also may make one even feel dismay at the fragile state humans often find themselves facing. The film does not relent on showing the ravages of time as we lose faculty and purpose.

The documentary is not really about Alzheimer‘s disease. It is about memories, purpose and loss. This makes it not just a film for people who have witnessed the affliction in their lives but for anyone wanting to hold onto identity, family and heritage. It left me not thinking about the medical facts at all but about how much the memory of our past and our heritage shape us and mold us into what we are and that those intangible cranial iDocs_FirstCousinmpulses, or whatever they are, are what make us each an unique individual. The erosion and ultimate absence of those thoughts break you down. We saw it in Edwin Honig.

The filming of his journey, I believe, helped stimulate his mind and challenge his brain to keep on functioning to the best of his ability and was a good process for him in the end. It enriched him and engaged him beyond just watching the changing of the seasons out the picture window. And as the filmmaker points out the one-time professor was still teaching us a lesson – hold on to the memories for they shape who you are.    

 In Conclusion: The HBO Documentary Film: FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED is a well -crafted work. Alan Berliner was praised on the film festival circuit for employing “intelligence, inventiveness, and a poetic sensibility to create a film that uses the onset of Alzheimer’s to make a beautiful, moving, and artistic statement about the intersection of personal history and memory.” The 80-minute piece, using various visual methods to convey Honig’s journey, is infused with emotional and poetic flourishes to make it quite a meaningful experience.  

HBO airdates include – 09.26 at 9:30am; 09.28 at 12:45pm; 10.01 at 12:30pm, 10.06 at 11:30am and 10.10 at 5:00pm. It can also be viewed at HBOGO.


  • Jakie

    Why??? It is a very sad out come, that has no cure but to make the family feel that they have to take care of a loved one. Who is in more pain, easy to answer that question. The loved one slowly has no understanding what is going on very slowly. STOP these very sad shows, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Maybe a son thinking they are losing there dad in a shity slow death doesn’t help that’s for sure……

  • Jef Dinsmore

    If you want a more medical examination of Alzheimer’s than seek out HBO’s 2009 documentary series of films entitled THE ALZHEIMER PROJECT.

    Clips can be found on YouTube or it can be bought on Amazon. Unfortunately, it is not on HBO or HBOGo at this time.

  • howardwater

    Your correct in saying that this film is depressing, so is Schindler’s List. These stories have to be told to allow the population that has not gone through these heartbreaking experiences to see a broader view of real life. This is the purpose to make people aware of Alzheimer’s and hopefully help someone deal with the disease.

  • Robbie Moraes

    This is depressing film. What purpose will it serve other then to say that we still can not cure this illness.?

  • Robbie Moraes

    This is depressing film. What purpose will it serve other then to say that we still can not cure this illness.?

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