'Bashir' director surprised by Israeli film establishment's support

Ari Folman tells panel of nominees there is a misconception about how tolerant Israel is to her artists.

Waltz with Bashir good 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Waltz with Bashir good 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman will be on the red carpet with the world's top movie stars at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, but says the Internet is enough to stop his newfound celebrity from going to his head. Folman's film is considered a front-runner for this year's Academy Award for best foreign language picture and would be Israel's first Oscar winner, but the director said Saturday that he spent his morning reading "terrible criticism" of his movie on the Internet. "On the one hand we're being criticized from the very extreme left wing and on the other hand from the very extreme right wing - you can't please everybody," Folman said at a symposium, held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters in Beverly Hills, featuring the five directors nominated in the foreign-language category. Folman told the panel that "the most surprising thing" that happened to him in the four-year odyssey of making his film was receiving the accolades and support of Israel's film establishment despite the politically sensitive subject matter of his film, an animated documentary about his effort to come to terms with what he had done as a 19-year-old conscript during the 1982 Lebanon war. The fact that his film had become "the darling of the establishment," Folman said, was "the most surprising thing that happened to me in the process of making this film, for sure. I think there is a misconception about how tolerant Israel is, at least towards her artists." He said that the film came out of a series of sessions he had with a therapist while trying to get an early discharge, at 40, from reserve duty as a screenwriter for public-service announcements about "how to defend yourself from an Iranian atomic attack in 60 seconds," he said, wryly. "I had writer's block, I couldn't do it anymore," Folman added. He had been working on other animation projects at the time and said that as he began interviewing former comrades and others who had been in close proximity to the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, he always knew that the final film would be animated. "To be honest, I'm sure I wouldn't be sitting here on this stage if it was just a real-action film," Folman said. He was nominated alongside another film dealing with the past, The Baader Meinhof Complex, a German action film whose director, Uli Edel, echoed Folman's comments about seeking the truth of what happened in his youth. "I lived it too, I was 20 years old at the time," Edel said of the bombings, kidnappings and other attacks that wracked Germany at the height of the Red Army Faction's violent protests in the 1970s. The other three films nominated in the category are the French film The Class, by Laurent Cantet; the Austrian film Revanche, by Götz Spielmann; and Departures, a Japanese film by Yojiro Takita. The Oscars will be held on Sunday evening in Hollywood, and broadcast starting at 3 a.m. Monday in Israel.•