The Sand Castle (1977)
The first time the National Film Board of Canada was awarded an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Short Film it was for Co Hoedeman’s imaginative short The Sand Castle (1977). 25 years earlier, Norman McLaren’s NFB stop-motion short Neighbours (1952) won the Academy Award – But, for some reason, McLaren’s scripted anti-war comedy was placed in the category of Best Documentary, Short Subject.
In The Sand Castle, a large-headed sandman appears from under a dune and diligently sets to work creating other creatures from the surrounding sand; some with too many legs, some with no legs at all and one that has the ability to regurgitate piles of sand from its belly. Once the sandman has enough companions, he sets them to work building an elaborate sand castle. The plot is straightforward but the pleasure of watching The Sand Castle comes from how each new sand creature springs to life with its own unique personality, and the captivating way Hoedeman has them move and interact with one another.
Hoedeman was born in the Netherlands during World War II. After taking classes at the School of Fine Arts in Amsterdam and working on special effects for Holland’s film industry, Hoedeman moved to Canada with the intention of finding employment with the NFB. Throughout his career at the NFB, Hoedeman traveled to Northern Canada and worked with Inuit communities in order learn their oral traditions and translate them into animation. This collaboration with Northern communities led to short films like The Owl and the Lemming (1971), The Owl and the Raven (1973), The Man and the Giant (1975) and Lumaaq (1975), all of which feature traditional Inuit songs and language.
Later in his career, Hoedeman created his own cautionary animal legend set in the snowy north. The Sniffing Bear (1992) is about a polar bear that finds a discarded gasoline canister and endangers his life by inhaling the toxic fumes. Hoedeman created The Sniffing Bear with the participation of aboriginal Canadians serving time at La Macaza Institution in Northern Quebec. Since then, Hoedeman has focused on children’s entertainment with his series about Ludovic the teddy bear which began at the NFB and subsequently became a television series broadcast in the Netherlands, Germany and Canada. The Sand Castle, The Sniffing Bear and other films by Hoedeman are currently available on NFB.ca free of charge.
Over the last two decades, the Federal Government of Canada has greatly reduced funding for the National Film Board of Canada and other cultural institutions. Concerned that this could effectively mean the end of an important organization he had dedicated his career to, in 2009 Co Hoedeman added his support to the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ “See To It” campaign against the government’s plan to defund the NFB.