MOVIES | A conversation with Ari Folman, director of Oscar nominee “Waltz With Bashir”

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Last month I sat down with Ari Folman, who wrote and directed the animated documentary Waltz With Bashir—Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film and now an Oscar nominee in the same category. The film is about Folman’s experience as a soldier in the Lebanon War in 1982. Folman retraces his steps by interviewing other soldiers who were in Beirut around that time as he tries to piece together what was really going on while he was stationed there. With its use of animation, Folman’s film expands the basic talking-heads documentary into a thrilling, if horrific, art film that packs a mighty punch.

waltz with bashir, a movie written and directed by ari folman. opens january 30 at the uptown theatre, 2906 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets and information, see landmarktheatres.com.

Waltz With Bashir premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. What was your initial reaction when it got into the festival?
Well, it was quite weird. It got accepted into Cannes a year ago, along with getting into the Berlin Film Festival on the same day, so we had to choose. It was an easy pick: we went for Cannes and it was great because this film was made in the remote outskirts of Tel Aviv and we had no clue what we were doing—it was like a fairy tale. They scheduled us on the second night of Cannes after Blindness, which was a total disaster. The film launched to the moon that night and it was great. You live and die for those 90 minutes when your film is on screen. Cannes is crazy!

So the media and audience responded well after its first screening?
Yes, everyone freaked out. We had, like, a 20-minute standing ovation. It was a big deal for an Israeli film to get selected into the competition, and more than 80 people came from Israel for the screening.

Did you know any of the Israelis who came?
Yeah. Some members of the crew came to the festival. They all got plane tickets at the last moment and came.

When you came up with the original idea for the film, in your mind was it always going to be animated?
Yes, there was no other way to do it. It deals with memory and with hallucinations and the subconscious with stuff that has to be done on film. Animation can just stream between dimensions very easily. Animation also gives you a lot of freedom in terms of images, sound, and vision—you can get really wild with it. It’s great for a filmmaker and it is addictive. I don’t think we would be sitting here if it weren’t done in animation. If it were just an ordinary documentary, I don’t think I’d be here.

The end product looks amazing. How long did the film take to make?
Four years. Yeah, four years.

I noticed that there is a director of animation—Yoni Goodman—credited with you. Who gets the final say? Goodman must have given some input on the overall film.
It’s my final say, but I do like working with a team and if you chose the right people, you have to let them work—and yeah, they have a lot of input. Yoni invented the technique of the film and [illustration director] David Polonsky is a great illustrator. Those are their original images—but when there were big decisions to be made, it was me who made them.

A lot of this film is based on your personal experiences in the Lebanon War. Was there any hesitation on the part of the people who are interviewed in the film?
Yes, it’s my very personal story. Except for some of my best friends who ran away—for two of them, we had to invent new faces because they didn’t want to expose themselves on film—but most of the people were urging for someone to come and listen to their stories. Really it’s not a talked-about war. It is a suppressed war, and it’s not a war that people celebrate. Those people who were interviewed wanted to talk about the war. If you go and learn some things about the war after you see the film, then I’ve done my job.

I’m sure you’ve seen the film a few times since Cannes. Are you still happy with the final product?
I’m very happy. I mean I see mistakes, just like any other filmmaker—I see small details that I would have done differently. But I’m totally at peace with the film and happy with it.

What’s the most important thing you’d like viewers to come away from the film with?
The film is a very anti-war statement. I was trying to say that wars are really useless and a waste of life for so many people for the sake of nothing. This is a universal statement that has nothing to do with my country. Ideology means nothing to these young soldiers who have died for their leaders’ egos.

Jim Brunzell III (djguamwins@yahoo.com) writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.

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