Impressive calling cards

For 14 years, Radio-Canada’s animation department was a major contributor to the European Broadcasting Union exchange program. It was under this program that Frédéric Back made seven of his animated shorts, taking turns with his colleagues Graeme Ross, Paul Driessen and Mino Bonan in turning out international-award-winning films. “Radio-Canada management appreciated our productions, especially Laurier Hébert in International Relations, who always supported us. Films made by the animation studio very often served as ‘calling cards’; they were given to television networks which would then become interested in other Radio-Canada programs. Thanks to this International Relations initiative, our films screened at festivals and were sold around the world, to the benefit of Radio-Canada.” F.B.

Claiming that computers made it no longer necessary, Radio-Canada decided to close down its animation department in 1989.

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[illustration] Cartoon drawn by Frédéric Back in reaction to the announced closure of the animation studio.

R.I.P.

“Radio-Canada’s animation studio produced nearly a thousand works—program intros, animated sequences, plus 20 short films—and acquired an international reputation crowned with over a hundred awards and two Oscars®. Hubert Tison was an exceptional producer: dynamic, visually and technically exacting, ready to intervene at every complex stage of production. Despite its overwhelming success, in 1989 the animation studio was cut and its team of animators were either retired or reassigned. Nevertheless, thanks to the Oscars®, I was permitted to make The Mighty River, which Hubert agreed to produce in spite of his new duties. We hoped that Radio-Canada would rethink its decision and continue to serve as the international model for animation. However, after The Mighty River, we had to let go of this futile hope.”

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[illustration] Cartoon by Frédéric Back featuring Boris Volkof, who was in charge of Radio-Canada’s in-house publication.

Films with a message

“Those in charge of youth programming at Radio-Canada, Robert Roy in particular, allowed me to make films that convey strong messages. Young viewers are increasingly exposed to advertising, temptation and exploitation. I felt it was important to inform them and, if possible, help them become critical thinkers through the powerful media of animated film and television. For me—and for Hubert Tison—the quality of the story and the weight of the message are a film’s most important elements. The film is based on an ideal, and the artistic and technical values are there only to enhance it and bring it to full fruition.

“Environmental issues are universal problems that, for far too long, have been suppressed by those making profits under the veneer of ‘progress.’ So it’s not too surprising that my films have managed to touch people around the world—people who struggle to make others aware of the immense work we need to do to save the planet from a suicidal poisoning, from the anarchy of overpopulation or from instant nuclear annihilation. Laws are worth nothing if people aren’t convinced of the need to embrace a more altruistic, more generous attitude—the only way to create happiness in ‘the best of all possible worlds.’ The activist in me feels at once powerless in the face of these problems and reassured by the motivation and actions inspired by our films.

“To me, this illustrates the power of the media, the power of art, and the unlimited, unprecedented responsibility of filmmakers, journalists and animators. There are ethical standards that too many influential people reject under the pretext of artistic creation or freedom of expression. I am convinced that every creator has a responsibility with regard to the planet’s future and the actions of humankind.”
Frédéric Back