Besides dominating most critics' top ten lists for the past year, both "Waltz with Bashir" and "Slumdog Millionaire" have another ominous commonality. Just as "Slumdog"s popularity was eerily prescient of the global attention that shifted to Mumbai in December, so does "Waltz with Bashir" place a militant Israel in the minds of viewers who will undoubtedly walk out of the theaters only to be assaulted with a barrage of headlines documenting the current violence in Gaza.
Director Ari Folman wasn't worried about previewing the next global hotspot, he was trying to use filmmaking to work out some personal regrets and distorted memories of his role as a young Israeli soldier in Beirut in the early 80s. I spoke with him when he came to LA recently for a press junket. Although this was his eighteenth interview of the day, his passion for the project was palpable in his quick defense of the liberties he took within the realm of documentary film, in discussing why his film is like an acid trip and why he is still quite certain that he never actually suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The film was honored with a Golden Globe this Sunday for Best Foreign Film.
CS: What was the best question you've been asked in the last seventeen interviews?
AF; This guy asked me about the relationship between war and love , he had done some digging in my filmography and found out that that's mainly what i deal with. and well... it's an interesting question ....
CS: So how did you answer?
A: Maybe love is the answer for war? Maybe?
Q: Do you consider this part of your therapy for PTSD?
A: I don't know if i have PTSD really. I was never diagnosed and I don't know if I do suffer from that but think any type of filmmaking is therapeutic especially when it's such a personal story like this one is. It's more than psychotherapy, it's much more because you travel and you meet the people, you record them. you write what you listen to....you shoot them again, you edit....literally you DEAL with the material. So it's therapeutic; it's a big thing you do.
Q: Did you know from beginning this would be an animated film?
A; This was always meant to be animated film--in my imagination it was animated, the characters were drawn....there was no other way to do it. And it gave me freedom to go from one dimension to another; from reality to hallucinations to dreams, subconscious, lost memory, war -- which is the most surreal thing on earth anyhow -- and drawings give you that freedom.
Q: Did you use original audio from your interviews? Were all of the interviews even done on camera?
A: First they were not on camera. Then we shot everything in [a] sound studio because I thought that the human ear is completely not tolerant towards location sound. So we did all interviews in a soundproof studio and we cut that into a 90 minute film and this film was the reference for the final version of the film. We made a storyboard out of it and then chose a few thousand key frames, drew them, animated them, It's easy...in four years you can do it.
Q: Any liberties with how you presented people or even yourself as far abridging or modifying things that were said?
A: I took much more liberty that that. It's interpretation. When someone tells you his dream that a giant women is rising out of the water and she's naked and she takes him and they make love in the sea, you don't ask too much questions. You take the story and you interpret it into your mind and you give the colors, you give the woman the look and you feel the freedom to do it because you can't get in someone else's brain.
Q: So how did you get away with calling this a documentary?
A: I was stupid enough to declare it an animated documentary years ago and it was a mistake because it made it so complicated to produce and to raise the money because the film establishment is so stubborn and narrow-minded that they couldn't understand how could a documentary be animated. So if I had to do it again, i would declare it's just an animated film about my personal story
Q: Is the use of animation a reflection of the trend in graphic novels?
A: This film is going to appear as a graphic novel [in February] here in the US. Graphic novels are very very popular in Europe, mainly in France. And i think this film was influenced more by graphic novels than by other films.
Q: Can you describe your film style to someone who has yet to see the movie?
A: This is a drawn- wildly drawn- journey into mind, into memory, into the subconscious. And although it's very realistic in terms of design, it takes the liberty to fly to places of dreamlike visions and in a way this film is like taking an acid trip and sometimes it works good for you but sometimes it's a disaster and when it starts you never know how it will end. So you'll have to take this trip to see the ending which is pretty wild
Q: What do you want people to walk out of theater thinking and feeling?
A: I don't want to manipulate their feelings and thoughts. I [thought] once I did the film I finished my job and everything else is up audience or up to you as a journalist, or the critics or film academies, researchers -- I don't mind. I just had a story to tell. this is how I told it and this is it.
Q: Are you satisfied with the result?
A: I am more than satisfied. It's beyond all my expectations.
Q: What did you expect from the Israeli audiences?
A: Israeli audiences received the film completely different from anyone else of course because it's in the language, in the emotional language and it talks to them. And for many people they feel the urge to suddenly for the first time to talk about their past and what they went through and all the screenings are much more emotional than anywhere else I attend. And of course there is a very basic anti war declaration in the film which is not particularly sent to Israel but is a universal statement -- and it's on the verge of becoming a cliche -- showing you that this is this is how wars look in the eyes of the common soldier. And there is no glory in war, no glamor, there's nothing of those things that you see in big American movies. Nothing. It's just a very useless idea, a very cynical idea of small leaders with big egos that don't really mind about other people losing their lives... and this is the main statement of the film in the end.
Q: What would you like a Lebanese viewer to walk away with?
A: With just the same statement that i just said.
Q: So it's not an apology?
A: No i don't feel any urge to apologize, honestly. It's not about that and it's not a confession. It's not about guilt because it doesn't come from a place of guilt and in that matter it's just a pure anti war statement.
Q: Is there a world leader, a family member or anyone else you had in mind when you made the film or someone you would like to see the film now that it's done ?
A: I would like to attend a huge screening in Beirut with thousands of people to see their reaction. That probably will not happen, but you never know.