Making My Grandfather’s Memory Book and putting it out into the world has been perhaps the most unexpectedly gratifying experience of my life. Given its heartfelt tone and subject matter, though, you might be surprised to find out that the project emerged from a darker emotional place – of existential frustration.
I had grown up idolizing my grandfather. He was an artist through-and-through, and unbelievably prolific. I knew he was great. But when he died, it became clear: the rest of the world had passed him by. His lifetime of work was literally growing mold in a storage unit in Baton Rouge. I found myself attempting to confront a distressing question: who the heck cares?
Now that he's gone, other than family… will anyone remember him?
I found myself thinking a lot about the concept of legacy. What is the point of being an artist, if nobody sees your art? What is the point of being an author, if your pages remain sandwiched together for eternity? And what is the point of being a filmmaker, for that matter, if nobody bothers to dim the lights and hit play?
These were questions that haunted me. I started seeing the media I consume – movies, books, music – as little time capsules. As little messages-in-a-bottle, tossed to sea by their creators. Desperate pleas for relevance, for an after-life, for legacy.
Ironically, the process of putting this short film together – and getting to know my grandfather better – made me realize not just how flawed this view is, but what being an artist is really about.
My grandfather never cared for an audience. He wasn’t after accolades or awards. For him, making art was more a way of thinking and being; a way of interpreting and navigating life. He made his art, every single day, because that’s just who he was.
His Memory Book is a good example of that. As are the hundreds of other sketchbooks he kept, cataloguing each year of his life. None of this stuff was made for posterity. It was made for a moment. For his close family if they were interested – but mainly for himself. Seemingly designed to capture a moment in time… but also, perhaps, to be forgotten.
I reflected on my grandfather’s art-making habits as I flipped through the pages of his memories, and as I made this short film. Taking my grandfather’s lead, I decided to re-frame my own goals. This hand-drawn film was not going to be for a general audience… it was to be a Christmas present for my father. A personal and private way for my Dad to remember his.
He liked it a lot.
The hundreds of wonderful and heartfelt messages and emails I’ve received about this film has been an unexpected gift, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the fact that a general audience has so warmly embraced this story about my grandfather’s life. But it’s all just been gravy on top of a wonderfully personal journey that has brought me closer to my own art, my own family, and my own grandfather.
In the end, we’re all just stardust. We’re here and then we’re gone. Even Shakespeare will one day be forgotten. No one can dictate their own legacy, so it's best to channel your existential dread into the things that make you happy. That’s what my grandfather did, by making stuff, and I hope to carry his lesson on in my own life. That, and maybe start a memory book of my own.