Waltz With Bashir: Interview with Director Ari Folman

Cannes Film Fest 2008Ari Folman is the director of the highly acclaimed political animation, Waltz With Bashir, which world-premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Fest in Competition.  The movie has been winning awards in festival after festival and is now released theatrically by Sony Pictures Classic.

Interview with Ari Forman

Did you start this project as animated documentary

Ariel Folman: Yes indeed. WALTZ WITH BASHIR was always meant to be an animated documentary. For a few years, I had the basic idea for the film in my mind, but I was not happy at all to do it in real life video. How would that have looked like A middle-aged man being interviewed against a black background, telling stories that happened 25 years ago, without any archival footage to support them. That would have been SO BORING! Then I figured out it could be done only in animation with fantastic drawings. War is so surreal, and memory is so tricky that I thought I'd better go all along the memory journey with the help of very fine illustrators.

What came first, the desire to make a docu or the desire to make animated film

AF: It was always my intention to make an animated documentary. Since I had already made many documentaries before it was a real excitement going for an animated one. I made an experiment in my documentary TV series THE MATERIAL THAT LOVE IS MADE OF. Each episode opened with a three-minute animated scene introducing scientists talking about the science of love. It was basic Flash animation, but it worked so well that I knew a feature length animated documentary would eventually work.

What can you tell us about the animation process used in the film

AF: WALTZ WITH BASHIR was made first as a real video based on a 90-page script. It was shot in a sound studio and cut as a 90-minute length video film. It was made into a storyboard, and then drawn with 2300 illustrations that were turned into animation.

The animation format was invented in our studio “Bridgit Folman Film Gang” by the director of animation Yoni Goodman. It's a combination of Flash animation, classic animation and 3D. It's important for me to make clear that by all means this film was not made by rotoscope animation, meaning that we did not illustrate and paint over the real video. We drew it again from scratch with the great talent of art director David Polonsky and his three assistants.

Is the film based on your actual personal experiences

AF: The story is my very personal experience. It follows what I went through from the moment I realized that there were some major parts in my life completely missing from my memory. I went through a major psychological upheaval during the four years I worked on Waltz With Bashir. I discovered a lot of heavy stuff regarding my past and meanwhile, during those years, my wife and I brought three kids into this world. This makes you wonder, maybe I am doing all this for my sons. When they grow up and watch the film, it might help them make the right decisions, meaning not to take part in any war, whatsoever.

Was the making of the movie therapeutic for you

AF: A journey trying to figure out a traumatic memory from the past is a commitment to long-term therapy. My therapy lasted as long as the production of Waltz With Bashir: four years. There was a shift from dark depression as a result of things discovered to being in euphoria over the film finally being in production with complicated animation being done by the team at a pace better than expected. If I was the type of guy who believes in the cult of psychotherapy, I'd swear the film had done miracles to my personality. But due to previous experience, I'd say the filmmaking part was good, but the therapy aspect sucked.