Excerpts from A Roundtable Interview With Ari Folman
                                                Director of “Waltz with Bashir
                                                Dallas , Texas , December 8, 2008
 
Outlook:  Was this autobiographical?
AF:  Very much so.  Completely.
Outlook:  Were all the people interviewed real veterans of the Lebanese War, like yourself?
AF:  Two of the nine did not want to be in the film, but wanted their stories told.  So we changed their voices to actors’ voices, and changed their images.
Outlook:  Why the animation?
AF:  The animation gave me the freedom to tell the story from one dimension to another;  from reality to dreams to lost memories.
Outlook:  In the Israeli army, the women serve alongside the men, right?  Why were there no female soldiers in the film?
AF:  They don’t fight.  They serve, but they’re not sent to the front.
Outlook:  But everybody has to serve, right?
AF:  Yes, two years for women and three for the men.  But everybody’s drafted.  You know, I’d tried to forget my military service, but after interviewing all these people, about what they experienced, it was kind of a relief.
Outlook:  Using the animation, you were able to show full frontal nudity, in a way you can’t get away with using live actors, and still get an acceptable rating.  Is that part of what offered you the freedom of expression you were seeking with animation?
AF:  I didn’t think about it.
Outlook:  Well, when the soldiers are coming out of the water with their rifles held above their heads, for instance..
AF:  We used to swim in the Gulf of Lebanon naked.  All day.  So it was only natural to do it like that. I didn’t think the nudity was a big issue.
Outlook:  One of the things that struck me about this movie was the irony of the Israeli army, if not committing an atrocity, at least knowing that one went on….you mentioned the Holocaust in the movie…
AF:  Yes.
Outlook:  I don’t even know how to ask this question.  How did the soldiers in the Israeli army, given the history of the Holocaust, feel about being participants in an atrocity themselves?
AF:  Well, there was no disputing the facts of the case.  They found Ari Sharon, and a few of the generals, not taking responsibility to stop the massacre.  Unfortunately, it took three days.  He was removed from his office of Defense Minister for life, but unfortunately he came back as Prime Minister, as if nothing happened.  The generals were banned as well.  But I didn’t waste four years of my life doing a political investigation.  I was more interested in the common soldier, because I was a common soldier then, and trying to understand the chronology of the massacre, meaning, how long does it take to gather enough information to realize there’s a mass murder going on around the corner?  I’ve been asked this question in a lot in other countries, but not in Israel at all.  Back home, the Holocaust is deep in the DNA of the country.  That’s why there were massive demonstrations in Tel Aviv after this massacre.  The Israeli soldiers themselves didn’t participate in the massacre…
Outlook:  It was the militia, the Christian Phalangists….
AF:  Yes, but still, being related to the massacre in any sense is not acceptable.  This is why people went out in the streets (to protest).  The biggest demonstration in Israel , ever.  And afterwards, Menachim Begin went into deep depression; he never went out of his home until the day he died.  Just one time:  for his wife’s funeral.
Outlook:  Sharon didn’t have the same response?
AF:  Sharon can’t be depressed.  But he disappeared for many years, before he got elected in 2001, nineteen years later.  This event was a turning point in the relationship between the people and the leadership.  Up until then, all wars were survival wars, just to prevent the Second Holocaust:  the Yom Kippur War, the Six Days’ War…this time it looked completely different.
Outlook:  The Six Days War was 1967, and the Yom Kippur was 1973?
AF:  Yes.
Outlook:  When I was in Israel , in the 1990’s, I just got this sense that you were surrounded by hostiles, and you’re just hanging on by a thread…
AF:  Yeah, but you don’t feel that in everyday life.  It looks like that when you’re here, but when you’re there….it is a free place.  I thought it was a big deal that I was making the first animated documentary, but I overestimated that fact.  It didn’t help me raise money.  The ending was an ideological decision, not an artistic one.  I didn’t want people to go out thinking, “Oh, that was a nice anti-war film.”  I wanted people to know the reality that many thousands of innocents died there.  This does not glorify war, or even show the great bravery of soldiers.  It just shows how useless wars are, and how they could have been prevented.
Outlook:  I thought it was courageous of you to tell people about your personal nightmares:  the 26 dogs chasing you.  I wonder if it was cathartic for you; therapeutic in any sense?
AF:  Any kind of filmmaking is therapeutic.  I’m not a great believer in psychotherapy, but this is dynamic therapy:  You travel to these people, you interview them, you write their stories, you shoot it and edit it, you really live, literally, with this stuff that was buried inside you.  And this is therapy.
Outlook:  Do you find that you have an emotional connection to Lebanon , or to these Lebanese people, because of your experience?
AF:  I don’t know.  I know that I would love to screen the film there.  We are going to have private screenings in Beirut very soon.  There have already been screenings in the West Bank , and a private one for the King of Jordan.  I know that films cannot change the world, but they can build small bridges between people.
 
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas