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Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman emerged from the 1982 Lebanon War with only vague memories of the horrors he had witnessed during his service. After nearly a decade as one of the top writers and directors for Israeli television, he began to reconstruct his experience after speaking with a fellow veteran about recurring nightmares he was having about the war. The conversation led to interviews with other vets, as well as intensive therapy on the part of Folman, all of which led to the creation of “Waltz with Bashir” (2008), his documentary about the violence that swept through a generation of young Israeli solders as a result of the war. The film, which told its stories through animation, struck a nerve with international viewers and critics, who made it one of the most acclaimed features of the year, and in turn, boosted Folman’s profile as an artist with a unique and uncompromising vision.
Born in Haifa, Israel in 1962, Folman was the son of Auschwitz survivors; in later years, he would attribute some of his ability to block out tragic events to his upbringing in that environment. As a teenager, he volunteered for the Israeli Army, where he worked mostly as a writer for training and information films. All of that changed in 1982 when he was sent into Lebanon as part of the 1982 Lebanon War. At the time, he was only 19 years old.
Prior to the war, the only conflict Folman had been exposed to was the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but the experience in Lebanon had a traumatic effect on the young man that would take decades for him to fully comprehend. He was a witness to the horrific Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, during which Israeli defense forces allowed Lebanese militia to enter refugee camps and slaughter hundreds of Palestinians inside. Folman blotted out the soul-damaging events of the massacre, and returned to civilian life, where he began work as a writer and director in film and television. His feature debut, 1996’s “Saint Clara,” told the story of a young Israeli girl whose psychic powers wreak havoc with the residents of her small village and her love life. The picture swept the Ophir Awards – Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars – in 1996, and established Folman as an up-and-coming talent.
In 2001, he moved into television with the acclaimed drama series “Shabatot VeHagim” (1999-2004), which preceded his work on “Betipul” (Hot 3, 2005- ), which concerned the personal and professional life of a therapist. Folman earned an award from the Israeli Television Academy for his writing on the series, which later served as the inspiration for the HBO drama “In Treatment” (2008- ). During this flurry of activity, Folman also ended his long association with the Israeli Army in 2003, after which it was suggested that he seek counseling to deal with some of the incidents he had witnessed.
The therapy preceded a meeting with a fellow Lebanon War veteran in 2006, who related to Folman that he was suffering from nightmares spawned from the events he witnessed during the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. According to the press material for “Bashir,” Folman later experienced a vision from the massacre which he was unable to determine if it was real or not. Another vet suggested that Folman seek out other soldiers who had endured the conflict as a way for all parties to exorcise the horror of what they had seen, which resulted in Folman creating “Bashir.” The film, which combined actual conversations between Folman, other vets and Folman’s therapist, with highly stylized animation all served to underscore the painful surrealism of what they had witnessed.
“Bashir” was an instant success with critics and viewers alike. By the end of 2008, it was on dozens of Top 10 lists for the year’s best films, and had netted scores of major awards, including major honors from the Ophir Awards, National Society of Film Critics, the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. It was also nominated for the prestigious Palm d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival, and in 2009, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. While enjoying the shower of praise his film had generated, Folman was also hard at work as head writer on a new television series, “Parashat Ha-Shavua” (Hot 3, 2006- ).