The Man Who Planted Trees The Man Who Planted Trees

Lina Gagnon died on February 4. Her loss will be felt especially keenly in Montreal, where her stellar career as an animator and educator unfolded across half a century.

Lina Gagnon

After getting a bachelor’s degree in aesthetics and art history at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Gagnon entered the animation industry in 1973. She was hired as an animation assistant at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), working on films such as Co Hoedeman’s Lumaaq: An Eskimo Legend (1975).

Her first major credit came on Beginnings (Premiers Jours) (1980), a mystical allegory of a human life rendered in subtle pastels. When director Clorinda Warny died during production, Gagnon completed the short film alongside Suzanne Gervais. It went on to win many accolades, including a BAFTA nomination and a special jury award at Annecy.

Gagnon then moved to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and worked as Frédéric Back’s assistant on The Man Who Planted Trees (1987), whose fluid morphs echo those in Beginnings. The pair drew the 20,000-odd frames of the half-hour film, with Gagnon drawing every other frame of the film: “She saved me a couple of years,” Back later said of his colleague. The sweeping ecological fable was a triumph, counting an Oscar among its many awards.

The Man Who Planted Trees
“The Man Who Planted Trees”

Returning to the NFB, Gagnon worked on animated segments for the documentary Un soleil entre deux nuages (A Sun Between Two Clouds, 1988), about children with leukemia and cystic fibrosis. For the first and last time, she then wrote, directed, and animated her own film, A Family for Maria (1992), which looked at the adoption of children from overseas.

In 1999, Gagnon helped set up the animation department at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, now one of the city’s major animation programs. She taught there for over two decades, shaping a new generation of artists before retiring from the school in 2021.

On her retirement, students and colleagues paid tribute in a video. From his bath, filmmaker Luc Chamberland said, “What to say? How to sum up such an extraordinary career in a few words? … Well: ‘cheeky,’ ‘wisdom,’ ‘champagne,’ ‘Oscar,’ ‘bubble bath.’”

“Lina was a significant person in my journey,” added artist Marianne Khayat. “She introduced me to animation in all its splendor, and as a woman who’s strong, intelligent, and accomplished in her field, she was a source of inspiration for me.”

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