Ari Folmer's 'Waltz With Bashir' first Israeli toon

LONDON — When Israeli helmer Ari Folman decided to turn his doc “Waltz With Bashir” into an animated feature, such was the lack of animation infrastructure in Israel that he had to start his own company, the Bridgit Folman Film Gang.

Now Folman and his animation shingle are in possession of the hottest Israeli project of the year and one of the best-received features at Cannes.

“This is the first-ever animated Israeli film,” Folman explains. “It’s important for me to make clear this film was not made by rotoscope animation, meaning we did not paint over real video.”

Instead, the format combines classic, Flash and 3-D animation developed inhouse by director of animation Yoni Goodman. The film itself is a highly autobiographical account of Folman’s experiences in the Israeli army following its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, culminating with the notorious Sabra and Shatila massacres, when hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed by Lebanese Christian militiamen, facilitated by the Israeli army.

The film’s Cannes premiere came 60 years to the day after the state of Israel was founded.

“Honestly, it’s amazing that ‘Waltz With Bashir’ screened on May 15,” Folman says. “When I started in 2003, I had no plans about when I’d finish making the film. It was a great coincidence.”

Folman, who began his career working in live action, plans to stay in the field of animation. His shingle has acquired the rights to sci-fi epic “The Futurological Congress” by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem of “Solaris” fame.

And Folman isn’t the only Israeli filmmaker turning to animation. In 2006, Israeli multimillionaire Erel Margolit launched JVP Studios, a state-of-the-art animation house in Jerusalem, which he hopes will become a rival one day to the likes of Pixar.

Margolit has brought in such people as Max Howard, a former DreamWorks producer, and Douglas Wood, who has developed TV skeins and features for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin as well as Universal and Warner Bros., to run the studio.

“Israelis have proven themselves as leaders in technology, and now is the chance to prove they can also be a major force in the content field,” Margolit said at the time of the studio’s bow.

As for Folman, don’t expect a return to live-action anytime soon.

“With animation, everything I dreamt about could be done,” he says. “I am obsessed with sunrises and sunsets. It was always a pain to capture them on film because it took too much time. I feel such a freedom with animation that I plan to continue.”

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