“Children do not constitute anyone’s property: they are neither the property of their parents nor even of society. They belong only to their own future freedom.”— Mikhail Bakunin
At what point does art turn into protest? What does it take to produce a Guernica? How much horror is needed for The Disasters of War? For Co Hoedeman that moment has come, and with his latest animated short, The Blue Marble, he has placed his art firmly in the service of human community, and against war. More specifically, his latest film is a heart-wrenching denunciation of the tragedy of child soldiers, presented in 6 minutes of exquisite animation.
According to UNICEF, an estimated 300,000 children — boys and girls under the age of 18 — are forced into conflict worldwide. Many are abducted, others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination. Those recruited by force, stolen from their families, are in some cases made to kill their relatives so they can never return home.
How can such horror be transformed into art? That question was never on Hoedeman’s mind. Associated for many years with the National Film Board of Canada, he has devoted his career to childre’’s animation; he is the creator of the beloved puppet, teddy bear Ludovic, as well as the unforgettable creatures in his Oscar-winning film The Sand Castle. Last year, Dutch-born Hoedeman released 55 Socks, a film based on a poem recalling the terrible famine Holland endured during WWII, marking a departure from light-hearted children’s stories into a realm of a very different kind.
With The Blue Marble, he ventures into the very heart of darkness.
“It was a very conscious decision,” he states simply. “I wanted to create an awareness of the problem of child soldiers, and that’s all I can do.”
In the over 40 film productions that he has been involved with, Hoedeman used a number of animation techniques, from soapstone carvings to computer animation. Here, as in 55 Socks, he has opted for silhouette cut-outs, a medium he has mastered to finesse. Its striking simplicity is incredibly powerful, encapsulating entire gestures and emotions using 2 dimensional characters. With the aid of a digital camera and computer programmes to manipulate the images, Hoedeman tells a fictional story of a brother and sister torn from their home, and the unbearable suffering that ensues. The viewer is captive from the very start, as the black silhouettes of the children begin their terrifying journey. Against a background of sound and landscape, they come to life despite the formidable demands, not to say restrictions, of the medium. The simplicity of the cut-out features does not prevent Hoedeman from expressing myriad emotions, and personalities. We feel for the children, and we are crest-fallen as the eponymous blue marble — a symbol of innocence and freedom, of the Earth, of hope — rolls out of the little girl’s hand.
By using the cut-out technique, Hoedeman follows in the long NFB tradition started by Norman McLaren, who saw it as the best one to use for financial reasons in the early days of the institution. It proved to be a superb vehicle for numerous animators who came after him, and in Hoedeman’s hands it shows to be timeless. There is great elegance in his handling of the figures, a delicacy of treatment, both graphically and technically. The stark simplicity of the personages takes nothing away from the drama, and there is something visually satisfying in the restraint, as it serves to provide the necessary tension. It also holds back the horror, the details hidden within the shadowy silhouettes.
The Blue Marble is Hoedeman’s second film in a trilogy about children in relation to war. His next one will deal with the destructive effects of PTSD.