Frédéric Back, Director of “The Man Who Planted Trees,” Dies at 89

Animation legend Frédéric Back, the two-time Oscar-winning director of The Man Who Planted Trees, Crac!, and The Mighty River, passed away this morning at his home in Montreal. The cause of death was cancer, according to the LA Times. Born in France on April 8, 1924, Back was a prolific illustrator and graphic artist in addition to being a filmmaker and animator. He documented his life and work in extensive detail on his personal website. [UPDATE: Worth reading is this remembrance of Back by historian Charles Solomon.]

His films, beautiful and expressive works of art in their own right, are also noteworthy for their environmental and social consciousness. In his memory, we present a selection of films from throughout his animation career:

Abracadabra (1970)

¿Illusion? (1975)

Tout rien (1978)

Crac! (1981)

The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)

The Mighty River (1993, in French)


  • Christian Larocque

    Merci pour tout les beau films.

  • Jonathan Lyons

    I have seen an uncountable number of animated films in my years, like many of you I’m sure. If I were asked which was the best short film, the first one to pop into my head might well be The Man Who Planted Trees.

  • Doug

    one of the all time greats.

  • Strong Enough

    i remember hayao talking about him in his book Starting Point.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Seems to be one way most have ever heard of this guy I noticed (I think Isao Takahata has talked greatly of him too). For me, simply having rented a video from a public library that had “Crac” on it got me hooked.

    • guest

      I remember reading that he was a favorite of Glen Keane’s. I found two quotes when I went looking:

      - http://www.screengeeks.com/2011/03/25/interview-glen-keane-3/

      Q – Who are your inspirations as far as family, friends, or even other artists go?

      A – Glen Keane: Frederic Back is my favorite animator – a
      French-Canadian artist, in his 80?s now, who created The Man Who Planted
      Trees. It is a tour de force of personal expression. I dream of doing
      something so beautiful someday.

      and

      - http://filmjourney.org/2005/03/24/frederic-back/

      At the honorary event, Keane used an overhead projector and showed the
      audience some of Back’s original drawings, which were only a few inches
      wide–a much smaller scale than most animators’ work. “Back’s drawings
      are like miniature Sistine Chapels,” Keane said, and surprised the
      audience by focusing on a detailed rendering of whales swimming together
      and placing his thumb, gargantuan by comparison, next to it. (“He is
      doing what I want to do,” Keane said of Back in 1997. “He is saying
      something personal, because he believes it and his drawing is a passion
      for him.”)

      rest in peace

  • Sarah

    The autobiography on his website is amazing.

    • guest

      Thanks for encouraging me to click: I enjoyed this anecdote:

      - snip -

      But the silent films that had created work for so many musicians were
      replaced by talkies, and the musicians went to play in courtyards and
      public squares for pennies people would throw from their windows. I
      often saw them on my way home from school, numb with cold and starving. I told them my father was a musician and my mother an excellent cook, and brought many of them home. My kind mother
      always made something good. But one day a small orchestra – five
      musicians – came with me. I can still see them, climbing the five floors
      to our apartment with the bass drum, the cymbals, the cello and the
      rest of their gear! My mother’s eyes opened wide, but she got them
      settled, peeled potatoes and found a few eggs to give them a good feast.
      Getting home from work, my father was very surprised to see the
      instruments piled in the landing and so many people at the table! But
      soon they were talking about what was happening to traditional music and
      the many, often talented musicians who played it. My parents didn’t
      scold me, for they were very hospitable and sympathized with anyone in
      need, just as they welcomed the lost birds, dogs and cats I brought
      home.

      - snip –

      wish I could have been there

    • mandori

      thanks to you i spent half of my afternoon reading about this man I’m ashamed to say i hadn’t heard about, it was fascinating.

  • Keith Blackmore

    I’d like to share a personal story.

    For the last 20 years I have taught animation history. I always saved Mr. Back’s film “The Man Who Planted Trees” for screening last.
    Many films entertain but very few films inspire.
    And this film has inspired 1000′s of people.
    Of course there was the Green Belt Project to reforest Africa which won the Noble Peace Prize and the U.N.’s One Billion Tree Project to reforest India.
    However for me I was inspired to work with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.
    In 2011 the City of Vancouver was celebrating it’s 125th anniversary and the festival planned to plant 3,000 Japanese ornamental cherry trees. Through another colleague (thanks Martin) I was able to contact Mr. Back directly. Though he wasn’t able to travel from Montreal he wrote back and readily agreed to allow us to screen “The Man Who Planted Trees” to 1000′s of school children that year.
    He also selflessly donated enough money to have five cherry blossom trees planted.
    Those five trees stand at the entrance to Vancouver City Hall and are a testament to Mr. Back’s love of nature and his environmental activism.
    Yes he was an animator but he was an environmentalist first and last.
    His film’s were his voice for expressing his love of this earth and all the beauty on it.

    At this time of year when we reflect on what has been and what is to come we should all watch “The Man Who Planted Trees” again. To remind ourselves of the power of one. How one individual can bring forth so much beauty while surrounded by the ugly destructiveness of war.

    We have lost a very great animator, an even greater environmentalist and a most humble servant of God. We are lesser without him.

    For the animation community this is the saddest news of the year.