“good poetry… should shake one to the roots of his being.”
First Cousin Once Removed is not a film I could (or would) have made about anyone else. It’s the culmination of decades of deep friendship, mutual trust, family kinship, artistic kinship, countless long walks, telephone conversations, debates and discussions with Edwin Honig – my close friend, cousin, and mentor -- often centered on his insistence that art should always get to the heart of the matter – to the very bottom of things – an approach he valued in his life, applied to his work, and something I kept in mind throughout the making of the film.
As our ongoing conversations record the steady decline of his body and his mind, they also document the strength and stamina of his spirit, his innate charm and his ever-playful way with words. His intermittent moments of self-awareness and lucidity allow us inside his ongoing struggle to make sense of his new relationships to time, family and personal identity. While the film approaches Edwin’s condition with compassion and humor, it also portrays Edwin’s life with the same raw honesty that resonates in his poetry, written amidst a lifetime steeped in tragedy, love, loss, irony and literary daring. I’m sure he would see this project as an opportunity to make one last grand poetic gesture – a profoundly intense exploration of the myriad ways in which memory functions as the glue (and the scissor) of life.
I was with Edwin the day he agreed to donate his brain to science, for Alzheimer’s research. For a variety of reasons, that never happened, but I’d like to think that my film preserves Edwin’s amazing mind, and allows us to look at Alzheimer’s disease, remembering, forgetting, and in many ways life itself, in ways we never have before. – Alan Berliner