Waltz with Bashir: Ari Folman Interview
We caught up with documentary filmmaker and ex-Israeli army soldier Ari Folman, whose inability to remember his own part in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon prompted him to make the unique animated documentary Waltz with Bashir, in which he interviews his old army buddies and in the process uncovers his own suppressed memories and begins to dream of the war. Ari talked to us about the difficulty of getting funding for documentaries and why he chose to make the film as an animation.
LOVEFiLM: Was it a difficult film to make?
Ari Folman: Yeah, it was a very tough sell. If I was to do it now, I’d never declare it as an “animated documentary”. I think it’s really cool to be the first animated documentary ever done as a feature film, but the film establishment is really narrow minded in many ways. For example, documentary funds have 10 times less money than feature funds. They say, “Yes, but if it’s animated, it can’t be documentary”. Then you go to the feature funds and they say, “It’s documentary, so go there.” So it gave me a lot of problems really, raising the budget. I would have done it anyhow, it’s just the declaration was a mistake. Without using the term “documentary” we could have finished years ago.
LF: You’ve established a new genre now and you’ve done it so successfully...
AF: I don’t know. I’m not really sure about it because it’s really a huge contradiction to the main philosophy of being a documentary filmmaker, which is a very intimate way of making films. Nothing is spontaneous in animation. Every movement takes ages and it’s expensive, and it’s a lab kind of thing, you know?
LF: Are you worried that people coming in off the streets might think it’s all fictional and not realise it’s a documentary?
AF: I’m not worried. It’s more a philosophical question. Who decides when a film ends being a fiction film and starts being a documentary film? Is there any law? Is the image of a camera more real than a drawn image? In the end it will be a digital image. It will be made of pixels. So is it more real if it’s done by pixels or by beautiful artists who can draw someone for two months? And both images are using the same voiceovers, so what is more real?
LF: To what extent were the voices rehearsed?
AF: We have nine actors in the film. Seven out of them are the real people like me. Two interviewees got cold feet just before the shooting, so I brought in actors to tell the morals and we invented new faces, but basically everything that’s in the film is a true story and of course people said whatever they want to say. They were not rehearsed, except for the actors.
LF: What do you think the animation does for the subject matter?
AF: I think the only way to do this kind of film is to animate it. In my imagination the characters didn’t have any other existences. Animation is just a free zone. It gives you freedom to do whatever you like. To go from real stories to hallucinations, to dreams, to the subconscious, to drugs, to anything, without finding excuses for how to do it. You just draw it. It’s not that it helped or assisted the story: this is the way to do it. It’s the only way it could have been done.
LF: Why do you think there are more animated films now that can deal with serious subjects than a few years ago?
AF: I think that the superheroes turned into graphic novels and the graphic novels became a modern art way of expressing journalism. Art Spiegelman’s Maus and then Joe Sacco’s works and the pretty amazing stuff done about Bosnia and the siege in Sarajevo – Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert – and it’s very trendy. It’s like a must have in every cultural house. I never understood why animation for adults didn’t exist as a genre. For me, I think it’s the future. Maybe it’s the cost and the fact that it’s time consuming and so complicated to do that if it’s done, you aim to go for a family film. Persepolis, although it has a few similarities, is a family movie. It’s not like Bashir. No doubt the production of graphic novels will lead to more adult animation films.
LF: Was it a therapeutic process?
AF: Yeah. Any kind of filmmaking is therapeutic. No matter what you think you’re doing. If you’re doing it about something imaginary... Something that’s not a closed subject in your past… I’m not a great believer in psychotherapy. I think it’s not comparable with the arts.
LF: Do you still dream about the war?
AF: I don’t have dreams about the war at all. I have more interesting dreams now.
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