Pierre Hébert animated-film maker

by Benoit Bleau (translation : Susan Fisch) (February 2021)

For some time now, the region of Hemmingford has been attracting painters, writers, film makers and other artists who come here to seek refuge and find the peace necessary for creativity and the fulfillment of their art. This is the case of film director, screenwriter, engraver, painter, writer, movie director and producer, Pierre Hébert, who, inspired by many of his colleagues in the cinema, surrendered to the charms of our region in 1974.

He first acquired a piece of land from Sue and Hugh Heller, and as he says: “… from there I had the crazy and foolhardy notion to build myself a house. I had no experience in this whatsoever; but since it was trendy in those years, I became interested in traditional Quebec-style houses and I had the impression of understanding the principles of log house construction.” With guidance from a craftsman in the area, Clément Barrière, he constructed a masterpiece in the middle of the forest; and in 2000 he settled in full-time with his wife, Sylvie Massicotte.

Born in Montreal in 1944, Pierre studied anthropology, with the intention of becoming an archeologist. At the same time, he launched himself into learning about engraving techniques. It was after meeting Norman McLaren in 1962 that he embarked upon his journey in animation scratched directly onto film, a technique that characterizes his art and that became the focal point of his work until 1999. From 1965 to 1999, he was working for the National Film Board of Canada, where he produced a series of experimental films that first explored the phenomenon of perceptions (Op hop, Opus 3, Around Perception), and then expressed political and social preoccupations (Entre chiens et loup, Memories of War). In 1991, he undertook the production of the feature length movie “La Plante Humaine” which was viewed in theatres in Montreal and Paris in 1996. During this period, Michèle Pauzé, recently deceased, was his assistant illustrator for many of his films. She was also a resident of the area.

In 1999, he left the NFB to go back to being a film director and independent artist and to publish an essay about animated film (l’Ange et l’automate). He participated in various cinematic reviews, taught the technique and history of animated film at École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal, at Université de Laval and Université de Montréal, and gave a number of practical workshops on the methods of artisanal production in animated film.

Since 2009, he has generated a steady production of illustrations. He exhibits in Quebec and Europe and is frequently in demand to participate at festivals and symposiums abroad. He has received numerous prizes and grants, among them one of the Grand Prix of Quebec, the Prix Albert Tessier in 2004 for the total body of his work, and an honorary doctorate from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver in 2018.

Pierre Hébert defines himself through a desire to create animated films in a different way. Rather than looking for fluidity and precision, the way we find them in Disney-type animations, he plays on raw emotion that emerges from an intermittent animation, as we can conclude in Memories of War. His shows of scratching on-film, in which he is accompanied by improv musicians, and sometimes dancers, illustrates well the marginal position and resistance that he has adopted towards dominant animation. His works don’t leave us indifferent. They inspire us to reflect on the themes and characters that he features. He needed to have a lot of audacity and determination to so radicalize his conceptions of movement.

There’s still so much to say about our featured talent, but ideally it would be best to let you explore the National Film Board site at www.nfb.ca. Type in Pierre Hébert into the search bar. You can watch many documents he produced or contributed to, for free. You can also visit his website www.pierrehebert.com to view some of the works of our artist and to learn about his journey.

Thank you, Pierre, for awakening us to a different form of art, filled with meaning and poetry.