VIDEO. Animation filmmaker Jean-François Laguionie talks about his work and his latest film, “The imaginary sailor”

Jean-François Laguionie is one of the greatest French animated filmmakers. Palme d’or for short films in 1978, his filmography is crossed by numerous works rooted in the maritime universe. At the age of 80, Laguionie embarked on the production of his last film devoted to the character of Slocum. Documentary filmmaker Pierre-François Lebrun followed him throughout this period of creation. The result is a touching film: “The imaginary sailor”, to discover here.

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For years, Jean-François Laguionie, the director of the moving “Louise in Winter”, has been preparing a new animated feature film with his childhood memories as a backdrop. The film is called “Slocum”. This is the story of François, a dreamy and solitary child whose father decides one day to build, in the family garden, a replica of the sailboat of Joshua Slocum, the first navigator to have sailed around the world alone.

Both epic story and personal introspection, this new cinematic adventure was the perfect opportunity to meet Jean-François Laguionie. From his earliest childhood to his most recent works, he has always had the sea as his source of inspiration. At least that’s what documentary filmmaker Pierre-François Lebrun had predicted. And he was right…

From this meeting between the filmmaker and the documentary filmmaker was born the documentary film “The imaginary sailor”.

Pencil in hand in his studio near Tréguier, Jean-François Laguionie recounts the work in progress. He opens his treasure chest and returns to a journey punctuated by films with a taste of salt and the ocean. This is an opportunity to rediscover an exceptional, poetic and sensitive work, carried by the images and words of an artist who, if he does not have sea legs, is nonetheless by his talents of filmmaker, a tireless sailor of the seas.

To watch: The imaginary sailor, directed by Pierre François Lebrun, co-production JPL Films:

How did this desire for a film with animation filmmaker Jean-François Laguionie come about?

I knew the work of Jean-François Laguionie, especially after his last film “Louise en Hiver” which touched me a lot. There is already a portrait film dedicated to the filmmaker. But I found it interesting to delve into this strong relationship that the director seemed to have with the sea.

Jean-Francois Laguionie is a discreet person. He is a gentleman who works alone in his house in Trédarzec, opposite Tréguier in the Côtes d’Armor. He had to be convinced to confide in his career and the work he was doing with this largely autobiographical film devoted to his childhood and the navigator Slocum.

“Slocum”, Jean-François Laguionie’s next animated feature is a largely autobiographical film, was it also an interesting entry to follow the filmmaker at that time?

I think Jean-François Laguionie had this project in mind for a long time. He imagined this little boy fascinated by boats, (which is none other than him) and by the character of Slocum to largely tell his own story. His young hero lives on the banks of the Marne, where he himself grew up.

At the age of 11 or 12, Jean-François Laguionie had a transport subscription card which allowed him to go to the Musée de la Marine in Paris almost every Sunday. There, he designed boats. It was his first subjects. His universe was already very centered towards the sea.

With my documentary film “The imaginary sailor”, it’s like I was able to open a trunk where together we would rummage through things from his childhood and go up the thread to better perceive all that links him to the sea. And finally, there are many elements that undoubtedly predestined him to seek the sea all his life.

How was the filming of the documentary “The imaginary sailor” ?

The shooting was spread over several months. At 83, he still works a lot, at his own pace. He gave me three days a month. We had like spaced out meetings which allowed me both to follow the creation of his film “Slocum” and also, at the same time, to progress in the “unfolding of his life” during our interviews. I was telling him, “today we are going to talk about your first short film”. And he was saying… This parallel was very interesting.

Are there any similarities between the character of Slocum and the filmmaker Jean-François Laguionie?

Yes, I noticed that. I read Slocum’s journal and fell in love with this unusual sailor myself. We can easily imagine the character, a sailing captain pushed into retirement with the arrival of steam engines in international maritime trade. He suffered this shock like many other sailors. A little embittered, he decides alone to repair a boat to cross the Atlantic and finally he leaves to circumnavigate the world. The newspaper recounts the events, the pirate attacks, the storms… with a lot of derision. There is a kind of funny “American phlegm”…

By reading this diary, I understood the way in which Jean-François Laguionie was able to become attached to this character, as he himself apprehends life, without “pathos”. I also saw this process that he has to continue to cling to his pencil as Slocum could cling to the sailboat. Of course there is something like that.

The animated film Slocum directed by Jean-François Laguionie and produced by JPL Film is still in the production phase. It should be released at the end of 2023.

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VIDEO. Animation filmmaker Jean-François Laguionie talks about his work and his latest film, “The imaginary sailor”