I recently sat down with Israeli director, Ari Folman, to discuss his Oscar-nominated, autobiographical, animated film: Waltz With Bashir, featuring the 1982 massacre in Lebanon during the height of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Accepted to both the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals in the same hour, Waltz With Bashir has certainly been acclaimed internationally. With 25 interviews to follow ours that afternoon, proud of his piece, and confident in it’s success, Mr. Folman gave me some insight on the project, and upcoming the awards season…
Usually people associate animation with a very specific type of storytelling – family or children’s films. Your story involves an incredibly heavy topic. In choosing to tell your story via animation, did you feel you were taking a risk? Were you committed to animation from the start?
It was always meant to be an animated film – I wouldn’t do it any other way. I really do not understand the difference in terms of truth or belief in drawn picture and pixelized picture. Would it be different if the characters were by DV camera? As long as the voice-over was the same, who decides that pixel-image is more true or real than drawings?
I find it hard to understand why there isn’t any more adult animation. Animation is now a complete, and total air for family movies, kids movies, box office hits. I never understood why – my next film is an adult film, animated as well, but it’s fiction. There should be more things like that.
It was obviously a good choice, the animation helped hone the visualization of the dream-sequences and flashbacks.
Animation gave me freedom to go from one dimension to another. There are a lot of fragile borders between reality and dreams and sub-conscience. If you draw, it’s easy to go from one dimension to another. For me, freedom in filmmaking is the most essential thing. It was the only way to do it. Everything was an interpretation. My finished job was when I completed the film – everything else is up to you. I am really tolerant to any kind of interpretation people give to the film, because it’s up to them now.
Did you intend for the film to be personally therapeutic?
I think any kind of film-making is therapeutic. I’m not a great believer in psycho-therapy. There is nothing compared to dynamic therapy – any type of filmmaking or writing or music. It is a process.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, still, clearly a relevant issue. Do you feel you made your statement?
Unfortunately, I don’t think that films can change the world. You were moved, something happened, and you come home, and you learn something in life. If I contributed to that, I did my work. It doesn’t really matter what you know, or you don’t know. What matters is NOW you know. Now it’s in your common memory. It refers to other genocides or mass murders that you’ve heard of that could’ve been prevented or stopped. At least you are aware of it.
There is a lot of talk about an Oscar nomination – how are you responding to all the buzz?
I learned my lesson in Cannes when we were supposed to win something, but nothing happened. I still don’t really understand the system here – I’ve heard so many legendary stories about it. Of course we hope for the best, Israel has never won an Oscar before, and only had a few nominations. If we do it, great, big celebration. If we don’t, great. I’m really clueless of what will happen.
Well, since this is clearly a passion project – I’m sure the recognition would hit home.
This film went so far compared to where it all started. We had only six animators in the beginning, then eight animators, and ONE guy drew 75% of the three thousand drawings. We were selected to Cannes and Berlin in the same afternoon, and we chose Cannes. Since then, I’ve been traveling with the film, and it’s been really far beyond my imagination. I was so busy completing the film, I didn’t think of how far it would go. And now, everything is kind of bonus. I can’t occupy my mind with Oscars, you know what I mean? I don’t have the time.
Walt Disney once said that “animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.” Do you think that applies to your vision?
Yes. Animation is really freedom. This is it. It frees your mind – and I kind of got addicted to that. It’s my second project in animation, and now I can’t think of doing anything else in the near future. I’m always obsessed with sunrises and sunsets, and in Israel it’s a very short time of day because of where the country is placed on the globe. Were always running, fighting against time. The first meeting with the illustrators, I told them 80% of the film would be in sunsets, so bring a lot of orange colors with you!