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Animated Coca: Understanding the Little Leaf

An article by Christian Coppin describing his experiences with an animated film project about drug awareness that links Bolivia with Europe. The project was completed with Belgium's Atelier Graphoui, an animation studio that works on pro-social projects.

Everything that is ours is sacred; Coca corroborates that well: In the leaves she tells all the truth. Don't trample on my coca anymore. Yesterday they trampled on my house, They stole all the valuables, And now they want to finish off my coca.

The metamorphosis of the little leaf at Graphoui.

January 1992

From South to North, children speak about their daily lives through the story of the same little leaf: the Coca. They explain in an animated film that, "Coca is good, cocaine is bad." These young people who tell about "la hojita," the little leaf between the moon and the sun, are the children of Bolivian peasants and miners. For lack of resources, they find themselves displaced to crude zones like El Alto, a vast impoverished city on the outskirts of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, or Cochabamba, or over by the Yungas in the community of Machacamarca.

Thousands of miles away the little leaf still plays a role: in Paris (The Golden Drop), and in Brussels (The Alley), between wastelands, parking lots, colored pencils, sound recording, photographs and shooting 16mm film, other children beckon to our little Bolivian friends with animated films.

This animated film project involved children, adolescents and adults who are involved in European (North) drug consumption or the production of "drug plants" in South America (South). The production and shooting of the film was supported by local organizations and partners and involved six different studios in several countries. The approach to this project was very interactive so that all of the partners, could get a sense of the whole. The resulting collective exchange of views and ideas lead to a more creative attitude toward questioning the subject matter. The beauty of this interaction lies in the imagination and the experience of children who perhaps know little more about animation than Snow White.

The first step was collecting the words, images and opinions of people who were confronted, in both the North and South, with the problem of drugs. Converting this into an audiovisual language involved the children, young people and adults creating animated images, using a method that has been tried out over the past dozen years by Graphoui. This method has the advantage of being able to adapt to cultural differences and whatever local resources might be encountered. [Editor's Note: The technique used to animate this film was traditional cels, shot in 16mm and processed separately in each of the participating countries.]

Simultaneously and in collaboration with everyone concerned, the project proposed to make a documentary video about the procedures of the different studios and the social, cultural and economic environments in which the animated films that were being made would be shown. The visual and sound productions from each of the different studios were regularly exchanged so that everyone knew what was being done. This interaction created a final composite film that could be screened as a collaborative statement between the North and the South about the problems of "interdependence."

The Pedagogical Objectives

The project is based on the cooperation that was begun during the European Campaign for Drug Information which involved European and South American non-governmental organizations interested in "drug development," and the preventative organizations active against drug addiction. The proposal to work together on the same project is based on the shared interest of the various organizations to address the problems of the South's under-developed health education system, particularly in the region of drug addiction prevention.

In terms of education for development, the content of the project is a realistic approach to the problems in Bolivia due to the production of Coca which plays a dominant role socially, politically and culturally. This objective to raise awareness about the difficulties encountered by a southern country, is further enhanced by the joint perspective and dynamics of the European/South-American exchange. The proposition to complete an open and shared collective statement between Bolivia's drug producers and Europe's drug addicted aims at more concretely revealing the relationship of reciprocal dependencies.

This approach takes into account global geopolitics, thereby enlarging the scope of public health. The subject of drug abuse continues to become more and more preoccupying, and remains very difficult to treat in preventative terms; especially among young people where the growing amount of drug addiction is equal in both Europe and developing nations.

On a Social Level

The project is also determined to address the disadvantaged lives led by migrant children in the North, as well as the poor children in the South. Children of Bolivian miners and farmers, cornered by a lack of resources and work, have gravitated to cities and drug trafficking, just as young people of second generation immigrants living poorly in European cities have. Centered around questions based on the theme of "drugs," but not too quickly connecting drugs and immigration, the project allowed these young people to express the numerous problems encountered in their personal and collective development such as cultural ambivalence, family disintegration and social stigmatism. They revealed the numerous activities that they organize in order to have access to social inclusion, while affirming their own identity.

In this communal questioning regarding development, health and migration, the educational action of the film tries above all to inform about the attempted solutions which were organized locally by the young people and adults concerned.

Unfolding the Action

The project was completed between July 1991 and June 1992 with the joint cooperation of three studios in Bolivia (La Paz/El Alto, Yungas and Cochabamba) and three workshops in Europe (France, Belgium and Spain). The working principle for each group was that the numerous problems related to the consumption of drugs and/or the production of "drug plants" should be revealed by the actors in their daily life and their social and economic cultural specificity.

Each studio is primarily a service to the community, the village or the district concerned by validating the richness of the people's experience. The images shot and the sounds recorded try to restore a positive view of the people involved or exposed to the problems of drugs. This is quite counter to the negative, too-often reductive image projected to the outside world by the media.

Each film isn't polarized directly on drugs, addiction, illegal production or dealing. It's situated on the other side of what is habitually shown on the subject of drugs in the form of a "scoop" or a traumatizing probe ("The War on Drugs," "The Junkie's Syringe"). These new films focus more directly on the story of the mobilization and organization of the people conditioned by these problems.

Secondly, through the idea of inspiring a network of exchange and communication between the six studios, the project intends to make the different experiences of the North and South resonate in an interactive dynamic to permit exchange programs between the different populations.

Finally, due to the professional quality of the audio-visual productions, the project aimed to be broadcast through the media and the campaign for animation on development and health education.

A film edited together from the sound and visual material from all six studios validated the experiences of the people involved, and again demands a new global consciousness of how problematic the "drug" issue is. Along the same lines, the film hopes to reinforce in both the public and the political decision makers the importance of developing some social approaches to the two extremities (supply and demand) of this epi-phenomenon, and imply that the community is taking charge.

The method proposed (children speaking, cultural interaction, animated films and documentaries) makes addressing both an audience of young people and adults possible. The final product, a film made up from the work of all six studios, North and South, informs a large public about a very important but delicate subject, in a language and with a quality of communication that, we hope, will demand a response.

The project received the support of the European Community Commission from the Education and Development Project category. It might potentially enroll in other financing programs as a "film project," an "Education and Health project," and as a project that aids the integration of immigrant children.

Christian Coppin is a director at Atelier Graphoui in charge of workshops, the sound unit and all facets of technical production training.

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