The Man Who Planted Trees – Small Changes Make The Difference

The Man Who Planted Trees DVD cover

The Man Who Planted Trees, French DVD Cover

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is an animated film by Frédéric Back based on the popular short story by Jean Giono. This beautifully animated film is about a shepherd living in the Provence region of southern France who single-handedly plants an entire forest, one acorn at a time. If you like impressionist paintings such as those of Claude Monet, then this film is for you.

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is a work of art in itself. It is a painting come to life. This film is not well know because it is only about 30 minutes. Hence it was never shown as a main feature film. I was fortunate to see this film at a university film society. At the time, there were no prints in the UK at all. The movie had to be shipped from the production company in Canada, but it was worth the cost and effort. Everybody I looked at after seeing the movie was awestruck by its beauty.

Amongst numerous other awards, this film won the Oscar for best animated short film, was nominated at Cannes, and won the Grand Prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Frédéric Back had previously won an Oscar for another animated short and that helped him realise this film.

The story of a very simple person with sparse means achieving so much, is universally inspriring. It is like the famous saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The shepherd patiently plants acorns, day after day for years as he walks around his mountain. In the beginning, the mountain is barren. After some decades, there is a huge forest.

He is steadfast, nothing stops him. No adverse conditions of weather or even fires can prevent him from quietly, calmly, and patiently walking and planting acorns. Whether he is working or visiting a friend. No matter where his journey leads him on the mountain, he plants another acorn.

It’s surprising Hollywood has not turned this story into a live action feature film. “The Man Who Planted Trees” is exactly the kind of story Hollywood likes to tell. That of an individual who changes the world around them by overcoming great obstacles. Sure, we know the formula. They would have to add dramatic action scenes of the shepherd battling storms and forest fires and starting over several times. And of course they would add a love story. This could still be a very good movie though as long as it inherits the great humanity of the original story. As the animated film has done so well.

Hommage à Frédéric Back...!!!

Hommage à Frédéric Back. This a photograph! created in honor of Frédéric Back's film. (Photo credit: Denis Collette)

You could take the story as solely ecological, but I’d say it has a far wider scope than that. Although fiction, “The Man Who Planted Trees” demonstrates that small actions over a long period of time can achieve great things. A single person making a tiny gesture, such as sticking an acorn into the ground, can achieve a huge task over time. A task which literally appears mountainous, if you have to do it in a short period of time.

Faced with all the problems in the world, most of us feel overwhelmed, incapable of changing anything for the better. We imagine change as sudden and big, like flicking a switch. That suddenly nobody goes hungry anymore, that cancer is cured, that all people are equal and all tyrants overcome. However, the shepherd has it figured out.

Change is and always has been incremental. We notice the end result — that there’s a huge forest across a mountain. We do not notice the planting of acorns, the setbacks after a forest fire occurs, the nurturing of sapplings. Nor the decades which may pass. Whether you are in a lab seeking cures for diseases, giving miro-credits to farmers, digging wells for clean water, or fighting a tyrant. It all happens incrementally. I suppose the tricky part is breaking the task into manageable chunks. And of course, patience.

“The Man Who Planted Trees” shows the value of self initiative. Many people doing small good things create a greater change in the world than waiting for a few powerful people, such as politicians, to create a sudden big change.

If you cannot get the movie at the moment, then try the short story. It is only about twenty pages long. The story is cleverly told, like a documentary. I’ll say no more as not to spoil anything.

At the moment, the beginning of 2012, I could only find the film available for purchase online as a DVD in France. Why not in Canada? It’s a Canadian production. It’s also quite pricey. Hopefully in the future, the film will also be made available as a streaming video, at an affordable price (hint to copyright holders). Note, the film is about 30 minutes long, not 90 minutes as state!

In the mean time, the creator Frédéric Back has three clips from “The Man Who Planted Trees” available online, at with both English and French narration. It begins in monochrome then shifts into colour when the shepherd appears. Enjoy!

View Clips

About Marcus Clearspring
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5 Responses to The Man Who Planted Trees – Small Changes Make The Difference

  1. Caroline says:

    What a wonderful review. It sounds as if it was very well done and the story is timeless. A good question, why did Hollywood not discover this. I don’t know whether it is lucky or not. I’d love to see the film. Thanks for reviewing it. If you’d like to participate in my World Cinema Series or in Richard’s Foreign Film Festival (details are on my blog) you can leave us a link and we include it.

    • Marcus says:

      I forgot about the series when I wrote my recent reviews because I now realise that “Pauline a la plage” is a very French film thematically. It’s not that easy to pick movies which say a lot about the actual culture they take place in, but I’ll have a think.

  2. Matthew Iden says:

    I always loved this story. I saw the film probably 20 years ago on a PBS children’s show hosted by James Earl Jones…can’t remember the name of the show. But I remember thinking at the time, “this is more than just a kids’ film…everyone needs to see it!”

    Years later, I came across it in book form that included a seedling as part of the sale. 🙂

  3. rtm says:

    Sounds interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animated feature done in impressionist style before.

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