Sunday, January 25, 2009
As a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Ari Folman was near the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. In his critically-acclaimed, animated documentary "Waltz With Bashir" Folman tracks down and interviews old friends to fill in the gaps of what he can't remember and find the truth about what he experienced. Folman, who lives in Israel, spoke to the Post by phone from Los Angeles, where he was accepting awards -- the Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics' Association awards for best foreign language film, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for best animated film. The movie also received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film this week.
Did you continue to remember new things about your experience in Lebanon as you worked on Waltz With Bashir?
Memory started to burst out, it was like confronting the past. Before the film, I had the main story line of my army service, but there were black holes . . . There were gaps in memory.
Did making the film change your understanding of what happened after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon?
I just learned that it was much more freaky and extreme than my imagination. The stories we heard while we did research were unbelievable, incredible. It was a place where soldiers invaded civilians, they invaded a different country and encountered civilians. It had never happened before for Israeli soldiers.
Do you have children? How do you talk about the film with them?
They're very young, five and a half, three and a half, and one and a half. I tell them I'm working on cartoons.
Have you had any reaction from people in Lebanon about the film?
Yes. There have been no official screenings in Lebanon, but from what I hear, the streets are flooded with DVDs for the black market. I know people watched it. Not only in Lebanon, but in the whole Arab world. There were a lot of articles, mostly in the Gulf area -- Saudi Arabia -- and they praised the film. When it screened in Ramallah, in the West Bank, there was criticism that the film didn't take enough blame.
One of my wildest dreams is attending a screening of that film in Beirut -- but it probably won't happen.
I read a lot of responses in the Internet, and it's mixed. On the one hand, it's like building small bridges between people so they can see the other side. On the other hand, they say, Who's this guy, who does he think he is, he comes to make this movie while the [Israeli] Air Force is bombing us and making hundreds of thousands of refugees.
How does it feel to have this film released in the United States just as Israel is at war again, this time in Gaza?
It's nothing of a surprise. There is a constant conflict, you know, so it's always happening again. This film is always being updated. It is always relevant to current events.
Do you think your film can do something to change the situation?
No. Film can build small bridges between human beings, but it can't change the world, change politics, change politicians, change decisions, change the majority of the support that the war has. No, it can't change anything.
What do you do in your time off from filmmaking?
I have a great family. I have incredible kids. They're the best of fun. I sail. I ride off-road bikes in the Negev desert.
How does it feel to be celebrated for a film that is so personal and so dark?
It feels great. It's a surprise, but we can't be hypocrites. It feels good.
What is your next project?
My next project is I optioned a Stanislaw Lem book. He's a science fiction writer, a Polish guy. He's dead now. It's the novel The Futurological Congress. I can't wait. It's an animation project.
Does it feel like a relief to get away from politics?
Yeah. I haven't really started it, I just wrote the treatment, but it's science fiction and it is pure fun.