Joann Sfar Draws from Memory Profiles a Star of the “New Wave” of Graphic Novels

Take a journey with award-winning graphic novelist Joann Sfar as he finds inspiration in his Algerian-Jewish heritage and the lively streets and cafes of his current home in France. Joann Sfar Draws from Memory sets the stage for viewers with a fun, ten-minute opening segment about the history and maturation of the art form. We start with the advent of comics at the turn of the 20th century, watch the “funnies” progress into a more literary means of expression in the 1940s and end with Sfar’s notoriety within the contemporary comic scene. The program then moves to a compelling portrait of Sfar as he draws the lived and imagined experiences of the Jewish Diaspora, and the everyday occurrences of his own, contemporary life.

Listening to Sfar express his compulsive desire to capture the human experience is truly a treat, and the blend of traditional and contemporary North African and European Jewish music adds to the magic. Sfar’s work is rich and moving, but he is also one of those rare talents equally capable of poetically articulating the nature of inspiration and the creative process itself. As a filmmaker and a foundational member of the ‘New Wave’ of the graphic novel, Sfar abandons conventions and crosses over genres, attracting a growing mainstream fan base to his intensely personal work.

Much of the film focuses on “The Rabbi’s Cat” (Random House/Pantheon), the book that brought Sfar to international recognition. The beautifully rendered graphic novel inspired by his Jewish-Algerian grandmother reached the top of France’s best-seller list ahead of any book of any genre, and Sfar’s first U.S. graphic novel release made The New York Times Best Seller list. His first feature film, “Gainsbourg” (Vie héroïque) (distributed by Music Box Films), received a Cesar Award (the French Oscars). The adaptation of The Rabbi’s Cat, anticipated by some to be the next “Persepolis,” is currently in its festival run after winning the 2012 César Award for best animated feature.

About Joann Sfar:

“He draws faster than his shadow. He comes up with stories as easily as you drink a glass of water. He talks more than anyone I’ve ever known. He’s extremely talented, extremely funny, extremely smart. I guess this fits the description of a genius. And I’m not saying that because he’s my friend. Joann Sfar is not a rabbi, but he describes better than anyone the religious dilemma, with tenderness, intelligence and humor.” – Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis.

“The Rabbi’s Cat is rich in historic and cultural detail and filled with great stories.” – The Washington Post

“One of the most important and prolific graphic novelists of his time, overflowing with energy and imagination.” – Le Monde

Filming Joann Sfar:

“Since his pen and mind are constantly in motion simultaneously (I was never sure which was driving which), I felt the best way to get to the core of Joann Sfar was to have him talking and doing at the same time. Since he seeks out places where there is movement (he prefers to draw in bars or cafés), Joann is a compelling subject to observe. It’s not always what Joann says that is most revealing, but what he’s thinking about and drawing and doing with his life all at the same time.” – Director Sam Ball

“I wanted to present a true story about a positive intersection of North African and Jewish culture – an alternative to the images of conflict we see in the news.” – Executive Producer Valerie Joseph

About the Director:

Sam Ball’s documentaries have been exhibited at many of America’s most prestigious venues for independent film, ranging from the Sundance Film Festival to The Museum of Modern Art Documentary Fortnight and many more. Citizen Film, the San Francisco-based production company Ball co-founded with filmmakers Sophie Constantinou and Kate Stilley in 2001, has created more than 150 documentaries of different lengths and formats, ranging from films for broadcast to shorts and multimedia exhibitions for leading cultural institutions and museums.

Joann Sfar Draws from Memory is Ball’s latest contribution to comic-book culture. His highly acclaimed Pleasures of Urban Decay, showcased at major museums around the world, profiles artist Ben Katchor. Most recently, Ball was awarded collaboration grants from Creative Work Fund, The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to create projection designs for a new play about the Group Theatre.


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