Saturday, May 30, 2009
Jean Giono, Frédéric Back and The Man Who Planted Trees
There are moments that make a profound difference in our lives. This is one of them. The Man Who Planted Trees is more than a story by Jean Giono. It is more than the Oscar winning short film by Frédéric Back. It is a solemn and passionate call to arms. More than anything the story shows us that the actions of one person can have a positive, long-lasting effect on the lives of many.
The story follows the life of Elzéard Bouffier through the course of two world wars. Elzéard's journey, for those who do not know it is best enjoyed without knowing anything about it so no more will be spoken of Mr. Bouffier. The film by Back will serve as your guide.
Jean Giono's Journey
Giono's journey also took him through the horrors of the first world war. His experiences during this time strengthened a resolve towards pacifism and the French novelist's future writings often touched on man's relationship with his environment.
Giono's commitment to the pacifist movement has him arrested in 1937 and again in 1944 for his non-commitment to the French Resistance. Blacklisted and shunned by his peers following the war Giono continues writing and publishing undaunted by the slings and arrows cast his way. He achieves great success with 1951's Horseman on the Roof and can no longer be ignored.
The short story that became known as The Man Who Planted Trees was first published in the French edition of Vogue in 1954. It created a minor uproar at the time not because of its ecological slant but because many people were confused as to whether it was a work of fiction or non-fiction. Depending on which side of the fence they sat on, they were either delighted or disappointed with the truth of the story.
Giono himself was fed up with the squabbling and left the story in the public domain stating, "It is one of my stories of which I am the proudest. It does not bring me in one single penny and that is why it has accomplished what it was written for." That purpose was to cajole people into ecological activism and to plant trees.
Frédéric Back: Animator and Environmentalist
Born in France, the young Frédéric Back emigrated from Germany following World War II to Quebec when he was 24 years old. The young animator began work with Radio-Canada and turned his attention to environmental causes in the late 1960s inspired by his father who kept him abreast of ecological news in Montreal and through his own son who was a university student studying biology.
Radio-Canada opened an animation studio in 1970 and Back began work on animated films. His environmental concerns showed up in the 1975 film Taratata. "I wanted to denounce the destruction of our cultural heritage and natural environment in the glorious name of 'progress,'" he writes on his website. The following year he read Giono's story for the first time.
"I discovered articles in many other magazines about people protecting forests, replanting abandoned mine sites, and teaching reforestation in India and Africa. There were Elzéard Bouffiers all over the world it seemed, doing what they could to create a miracle! And so I roughed out a script based on the Giono story."
Back won his first Oscar in 1982 for the animated film Crac! The success of this film, which details the life-cycle of a rocking chair from the time that a tree is felled, allowed him to pursue his dream of animating for the screen the tale of Elzéard Bouffier. The Man who Planted Trees was released in 1987 and Back won his second Oscar. He continues his work in animation and the environment today. Giono died in 1970.
Today I planted a tree.
The man who planted trees
(While Giono wanted the world to read his story, Canada's public broadcaster exerts its right's on Back's film. Finding this copy was difficult and I do not know how long it will remain live on this site.)