Director gets animated for his Oscar-nominated filmby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
A highly unusual Oscar-nominated documentary opens in Minnesota this weekend. "Waltz with Bashir" is out of the ordinary, because it's animated, and because it deals with the psychological repercussions of a Middle Eastern war a quarter century ago.
St. Paul, Minn. — "Waltz with Bashir" opens with a terrifying sequence of a man on the run.
"Twenty-six rabid dogs, really wild and savage are chasing him in the streets of Tel Aviv where we live. They want to kill him," said the film's director Ari Folman.
The dogs were part of a recurring dream Folman heard about from an old friend. They'd served together as soldiers in the Israeli Army during the war in Lebanon in 1982. The man knew the snarling animals were ghosts of the 26 guard dogs he had killed while on patrol as they looked for enemy fighters.
Folman realized he had very few memories of his own of the conflict, and those he did have didn't make sense.
"And the visions and memories started emerging," he said. "And the film is basically me going through a journey, trying to find out, by meeting people, old friends of mine, what we did during the war."
Right from the beginning, Folman knew animation was the only way to tell this story. His idea was to make a documentary based on recorded interviews with people who were in Lebanon during the fighting in 1982, as well as memory experts.
"The animation gave me total freedom to do whatever I like," he said. "Mainly to jump from reality to dreams to sub-conscious to hallucinations to day dreams to visions to drug visions to war which is probably the most surreal thing on earth."
For all the freedom Folman admits he had to give up one of the great advantages of regular documentary making: spontaneity, the magical unplanned moments which happen in front of the camera. Folman says here is no spontaneity in animation.
"I mean if you animate an extra sentence of work, its an extra week of work by an animator," he says.
Folman says he worked with his crew to make a 90 minute video documentary, which then became what he calls the reference for the final film. A crew of just six animators then drew the entire movie.
"Waltz with Bashir" slips backwards and forwards in time and in and out of the memories of Folman's subjects.
Hanging over the story is the massacre of 3,000 Palestinians by Lebanese Christian Phalangists in September 1982. The Phalangists, followers of Bashir Gemeyel, who had just been assassinated, went into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut and began a vengeful killing spree.
When Israeli troops on the ground reported what was happening, Israeli General Ariel Sharon's office told them not to intervene.
Director Ari Folman says "Waltz with Bashir" doesn't deal with the politics behind the massacre. An investigation after the event condemned Sharon for his actions.
"There is no news in the film," said Folman. "Because I was more interested in the eyes of the common soldier, what he was going through, and the way he sees war as a big thing that he has no influence upon."
The film has struck a chord with audiences and festival judges. It was ineligible for technical reasons for the best documentary Oscar, but it was nominated for best foreign language film. Also, much to Ari Folman's surprise he's now being heavily promoted by the Israeli government.
"Having considered myself a rebel for many years, it's kind of weird being the establishment right now," he said.
Folman says his film is at it's heart anti-war.
He also hopes he has struck a blow for animation for adults. He says animation is seen as the province of family films and too expensive for movies that are likely to draw smaller crowds. Ari Folman believes he has changed this.
"We proved that we can do it in a very, very, very, low budget and still appeal to audiences all over the world," he said.
Folman says his next film will be science fiction, and will involve at least one live actor, if only so he can send her on the publicity tour afterwards.
- Morning Edition, 01/30/2009, 6:50 a.m.