One night at a bar, an old friend tells director Ari about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs. Every night, the same number of beasts. The two men conclude that there’s a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early eighties. Ari is surprised that he can’t remember anything else about that period of his life. Intrigued by this riddle, he decides to meet and interview old friends and comrades around the world. He needs to discover the truth about that time and about himself. As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images …
In the mid 1980s, after completing his military service, Ari Folman ventured out on his dream trip to circle the world with a backpack. Just two weeks and two countries into the trip, Ari realized that traveling was not for him, so he settled into small guesthouses in Southeast Asia and wrote letters to his friends at home, letters in which he totally fabricated the perfect trip. One whole year of being in one place and writing down the fruits of his fantastical imagination convinced him to return home and study cinema.
Between 1991–1996 Ari directed documentary specials for TV, mainly in the occupied territories. In 1996 he wrote and directed SAINT CLARA, a feature film based on a novel by Czech author Pavel Kohout. The film won seven Israeli Academy awards, including Best Director and Best Film. SAINT CLARA opened the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama and won the People’s Choice Award. The film was screened throughout America and Europe to critical acclaim. Ari continued directing successful documentary series and took time off for his second feature in 2001. MADE IN ISRAEL is a futuristic fantasy that centers upon the pursuit of the world’s only remaining Nazi.
Ari made his initial attempt at animation in his series THE MATERIAL THAT LOVE IS MADE OF—each episode opens with five minutes of documentary animation which depicts scientists presenting their theories on the evolution of love. This successful attempt at documentary animation propelled Ari to develop the unique format of WALTZ WITH BASHIR, based on a true story. Waltz with Bashir has won in many international film festivals. The latest awards for Waltz With Bashir includes Golden Globe’s Best Foreign Language Film award and Cinema Without Borders “Bridging The Borders Award” at Palm Springs International Film Festival 2009.
Bijan Tehrani: Is “Waltz with Bashir” based on your own personal story and memories?
Ari Folman: Yes, it is definitely based on my memories. It is an autobiographical film, and is as personal as a film can get.
Bijan: You have made several documentaries prior to making this film. Did your experiences as a documentary filmmaker help you in making “Waltz”?
Ari: They helped me a lot. Although, I must say that the craft of making documentaries is completely different than making an animated film. There is a lot of contradiction between the two crafts. Documentaries are really lightweight in movement; you can do it with a couple of people. With animated films every sentence that someone says will take a week to animate. It is very different.
Bijan: What was the reason for animating the film, rather than making a live action documentary?
Ari: Well, more than anything else, this film could only exist in the world of animation. It deals with memory, subconscious, conscious, hallucinations, and war. The only way to deal with all those dimensions is to draw them and make them animated.
Bijan: The very last scene in the film is staged from real footage. It is effective because there was no real footage prior to that scene, and the emotions actually expand themselves much more than they would do in a normal documentary film.
Ari: Yes, it is definitely more of an ideological decision. It is not an artistic decision. It puts the whole film in proportion, and there is nowhere to hide anymore. It tells you that this is how war looks like in the end, and that many people died there. And with respect to the issues of memory, this is the scene to remember from the film.
Bijan: How did audiences in Israel receive the film?
Ari: It was received strongly. It forced a lot of memories to reemerge for a lot of people, memories that were hidden and not talked about at all whatsoever. It was even adopted strongly by the Israeli government, which was a great surprise to me.
Bijan: How much do you think a film like this helps people in understanding each other, and understanding the facts of the situation in the Middle East?
Ari: Unfortunately, I think that films do not change the world. But they can make small bridges between people. This film was screened in the West Bank. So maybe for people in the West Bank, where the Israeli soldiers are always considered an enemy, they can see them in a more humanistic aspect. It will be screened in private screenings in the Arab world, and it makes small bridges. A lot of Palestinians have seen the film in Europe, and they write me emails. I think it is affective in adjusting the relationships between human beings.
Bijan: Did you do any kind of motion capture with actors? Was this based on real footage taken by video?
Ari: Real footage was shot on a sound stage, but that was just a reference for the complete film; it was not the film itself.
Bijan: Did you work with the animators closely? How did that relationship play out?
Ari: Of course. A lot of it was dictated by the design. We were designing the characters in a very realistic manner as much as we could, because I thought it was essential for the audience to get emotionally attached to the characters. So that meant they had to look realistic. That meant more details; more shapes, more contours, more wrinkles. And the more details you have, the more complicated it is to move the characters.
Bijan: This film is very poetic, especially when the camera flies from one location to another, or follows one character after another. Did you write a complete script before starting the work?
Ari: Yes, a complete, precise script that we followed page after page.
Bijan: Did you have a co-writer on the script, or did you write it all yourself?
Ari: No, I wrote the script myself. I consider myself mainly a scriptwriter.
Bijan: The music is very effective and interesting during the film. How did you pick the pieces of music? Did you base your choices off of what was popular during the years that the film takes place?
Ari: The composer, Max Richter, influenced a lot of my ideas. There is something really emotional in his music. It is a combination of classical and electronic music. I never met him before, but I really wanted him to compose music for something I was doing, so I approached him for this project. It was amazing working with him.
Bijan: Have you witnessed the reactions to this film that veterans of the war have had?
Ari: Yes, I’ve witnessed many reactions from veterans. People thought it was very much accurate to the events. They thought that it showed the truth as they saw it, in many ways.
Bijan: Do you have another project lined up? More animation?
Ari: It is going to be animated. It will be based on a book called “The Futurological Congress”. It is written by a Polish writer. We hope for the best.
Bijan: Have you seen the animated film, “Persepolis”?
Bijan: What did you think of it?
Ari: I liked it very much. Although, I think it is very different. I think it is more of a family film, less severe than our film. But I loved the design, the illustration, and the classic animation. I think it is a great film.
Bijan: I personally think you provide a new way of filmmaking, if not a new style, which is really great. I hope that it influences some of the filmmakers in the U.S.