Born in Montreal in 1938, Francine Desbiens was in her teens when she encountered the films of Norman McLaren. Rythmetic impressed her with its simplicity, sensitivity and instructive clarity and was to have a major influence on her future career. After graduating from the Montreal Institut des arts appliqués, she joined the NFB team as a technician in the film library. Early on she met René Jodoin, who appreciated the excellence of her school work and invited her to join the new team in the NFB’s French animation studio. She immediately became assistant to Clorinda Warny, who was making films on learning math. In 1969 Desbiens co-directed Le corbeau et le renard with Pierre Hébert, Yves Leduc and Michèle Pauzé. This comic short, shot in one weekend as the result of a joke told by Leduc, became one of the studio’s classics. Stimulated by this teamwork, Desbiens was to repeat the experience in 1973 with Du coq à l’âne, co-directed with Pierre Hébert and Suzanne Gervais.
Les bibites de Chromagnon/The Little Men of Chromagnon, completed in 1971, is an educational film designed to demonstrate the colour scale. Desbiens, remembering what she had learned from McLaren’s Rythmetic, used the same technique and playful approach. As assistant to the great Czech filmmaker Bretislav Pojar when he directed Balablok (1972) at the NFB, Desbiens mastered the technique of paper cut-out animation. Her next movie, Dernier envol (1977), based on a story by Roch Carrier, made full use of this experience.
In 1976 Desbiens became a producer, most notably for André Leduc’s Chérie, ôte tes raquettes (1976), Ron Tunis’s Moi je pense/This Is Me (1979) and Viviane Elnécavé’s Luna, luna, luna (1980). She then worked with Bretislav Pojar again, co-directing “E” (1981). The following year, she designed the theme of the exhibition L’art du cinéma d’animation, held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1982), and then started to create Ah! vous dirai-je maman/Variations on Ah! vous dirai-je maman (1985), an autobiographical work that marks a high point in her filmography. Thereafter she made Dessine-moi une chanson!/Draw Me a Song (1990), Voir le monde/To See the World (1992), Le tournoi/The Tournament (1994) and Mon enfant, ma terre/My Child, My Land (1998), films that range from the depiction of personal experience to works of social commitment. A woman of strong convictions who was involved in trade unionism and defending the position of filmmakers in the NFB hierarchy, Francine Desbiens finished her career with her most political movie, a denunciation of the moral blindness of the industrialized nations to the problem of antipersonnel land mines. She retired in 1998.