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The Man Who Planted Trees – Film (1997)

The Man Who Planted Trees is a 1987 animated short film directed by Frederic Back.

The film tells the story of a shepherd in the French Alps who, over the course of several decades, single-handedly plants a forest that changes the local environment.


Original title: L’homme qui plantait des arbre
Directed by Frederick Back
Written by Jean Giono
Narrated by Christopher Plummer (English version)

The Man Who Planted Trees, also known as The Story of Elzeard Bouffier, is a film that is produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Film Board of Canada, and Societe Radio-Canada in 1987.

The film won many awards, including:

  • Tampere International Short Film Festival (1988);
  • World Animation Celebration (1987);
  • Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and Short Film Palme d’Or (1987).

Jean Giono (1895-1970) is perhaps best known to English-language readers for his tale, though it was a late work coming after establishing a strong reputation in Europe as a master craftsman of stories that thrive on the sketch or incident.

Uniformly, this glimpse of the human character in his stories was realist or naturalistic; he was noted for his insightful portraits of fallible humanity.

The Man Who Planted Trees – Synopsis

The story of one shepherd (Elzéard Bouffier) who dedicated his life to planting trees in a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps in Provence around the first half of the 20th century. The story is not only about trees; it is about understanding our role in life and in nature, our relationship to other people.

This tale by Jean Giono is like the evening star that helps us find our bearings, to see what is important.

The meaning of the story can be found in the words: “Everyone searches desperately for happiness, but the price we must pay for it is generosity.”

Jean Giono worked on the story for twenty-three years, and in the end, it was only seven pages long.

„Sorry to disappoint you, but Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likable, or more specifically, make planting trees likable.”

Although inspired by Giono’s experiences in the mountains with real shepherds, many of whom were tree planters, there was no actual Elzéard Bouffier.

The first publisher Giono submitted the story to turn it down—the publisher was expecting a story about real as opposed to fictional characters. Giono then waived the copyright and donated the story to the public domain.

It has turned out to be perhaps Giono’s most widely read work, and the tale—in both book and film form—has inspired tree planting and other conservation efforts all over the world.

Giono’s Shepherd lives alone in the mountains. His only significant resources are his inner strength and vision. Over a period of fifty years, he plants hundreds of thousands of trees. Wars rage nearby; he keeps planting. Dry brooks begin to run with water again.

The woods fill with birds. The Shepherd stays with his work of beauty without recognition or compensation. In the giving, and in seeing the trees grow, he experiences joy.

„When I consider that a single man, relying only on his own simple physical and moral resources, was able to transform a desert into this land of Canaan, I am convinced that despite everything, the human condition is truly admirable.

But when I take into account the constancy, the greatness of soul, and the selfless dedication that was needed to bring about this transformation, I am filled with immense respect for this old, uncultured peasant who knew how to bring about a work worthy of God.” – quote from The Man Who Planted Trees movie.

Read ”The Man Who Planted Trees” book by Jean Giono here:

Some real-life examples of master tree planters:

#1 Ma, Yongshun (1914-2000)

He was a forestry worker in Heilongjiang Province of China, as a lumberman, he suffered from a sense of guilt, he single-handedly planted more than 50,000 trees since the 60s.

Each spring, he would plant trees using his free time before work, after work, during lunchtime, and after his retirement. When he retired in 1982, many people encouraged him to relax during his last days. His response was always “I cannot until I have paid off a debt”.

#2 Abdul Karim

He was born in 1947 in Nileswar, India created a forest out of nothing over a period of 19 years, using a similar method as Bouffier

Abdul Karim said:

“Children are learning about how one man can make a difference. I hope at least some of the children will learn how important and beneficial it is to protect and preserve the environment and keep it green.”

#3 Jadav „Molai” Payeng

He planted a forest sprawling 1,360 acres(550 hectares), calling it the Molai forest, in Assam, India. A herd of around 100 elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stays for around six months.

They have given birth to 10 calves in the forest in recent years.

Jadav Payeng declared:

“After 12 years, we’ve seen vultures. Migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. Deer and cattle have attracted predators.”

An organization called Trees for the Future has assisted more than 170,000 families, in 6,800 villages in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, to plant over 35 million trees.

#4 Wangari Maathai (2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient)

He founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. In 2011 almost 4 million trees were planted, bringing the total number planted to over 51 million trees, to restore the Kenyan environment.

#5 Bhausaheb Thorat

He led a campaign to plant 45 million trees every year in Maharashtra, after reading the book The Man Who planted Trees.

#6 Greg Hill

He is a professional climber and skier, planted over a million trees.

Watch on more documentaries, like:  Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds.