Posted at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2008
by Euan Kerr
In 2002 a journalist in Tel Aviv asked Israeli film maker Ari Folman why he didn't make a film about the 1983 war in Lebanon where he has been a soldier.
"And my answer was, 'I couldn't care less, I wouldn't waste one day of my life making a war movie," he says. "And now I am sitting in Minneapolis, can you imagine that? Talking about my animated war movie."
And not just any animated war movie. It's a documentary where Folman tells his own story and which quickly becomes an examination of memory, dreams, and the human psyche in war and in the face of atrocities.
It all started when a friend who had also served in the war told Folman about a recurring dream he was having about being chased by a pack of wild dogs. There were always 26 of them, the same number of dogs he killed while out doing security patrols in the Lebanon decades before.
Folman had been having dreams of his own, but only dreams.
Folman realized how little he could remember of his time in Beirut, a time which coincided with a terrible massacre of Palestinians by followers of Christian Phalangist Bashir Gemayel who had been killed in a bomb attack by an unknown assailant. Folman began interviewing other people who had been there and assembled a 90 minute documentary on video.
He and his team then reproduced the entire film as animation, not through rotoscope, but hand animation.
"It gave me the freedom to go from reality to non-reality, to dreams," he says. "I think that our lives really consist of this constant movement between reality and the fantasies that go on deep in our brains, while we are awake and while we are sleeping. Film-making is the most tremendous way of experiencing it on the big screen and animation can do it. Only animation can do it."
The film was very well received in Israel as a personal view of the conflict, which pleases him. What he had not expected is the film has become a favorite of the government, and it is now being promoted as an example of the best of Israeli culture, which for a guy who saw himself as a rebel, its a little strange.
The film has been put forward as the official Israeli nomination for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and there is hope it could snag a nomination for animation too. It does not qualify as a contender for best documentary.
Folman tells the story of how one night during the production they watched "Finding Nemo" after work. In the credits they counted 42 animators who had just worked on getting the light effects right for the Nemo character. At the time they only had six animators working on the entire film (although the number later expanded to eight.)
Now Folman may find his film going head to head with "Wall-E" which just makes him laugh. "It's incredible. You don't have to win. You just have to be there."
We'll run the interview when the film opens in the New Year