Ari Folman on Funding Animated Documentaries

Although animated documentaries are one of the most exciting areas of filmmaking today, in an interview for Comingsoon.net, Waltz with Bashir director Ari Forman in discussing the problems getting funding, notes,

The problem was clearing the film as an animated documentary. This was the main problem, because people sit in documentary funds, they get 10 times less money than people in fiction, and then they have to spend the money, and they think, “Should I spend it on animation? Is animation a documentary? Is it real? Will people believe the story? Is it true?” They gave me a hard time. It was too risky for them, and today, I don’t give a damn. If I would do it now, I would declare it as a fiction film, animated, and this is it. Raise the money, work…

Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with BashirLast year, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical Persepolis grabbed the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, helping to launch it on the road to international fame. It also brought a greater realization that animated films could be taken as seriously as their live-action brethren. Now, with Satrapi serving on this year’s Cannes jury,  Waltz With Bashir, Ari Forman’s Israeli-made documentary, seems to be garnering considerable buzz at this year’s festival. And if the reception reaches beyond Cannes, it’s possible that animation will have reached a new tipping point.

The reception from the press seems generally positive. For instance, in a report for Time entitled “Cartoon Pandas, Animated Nightmares,” Richard Corliss and Mary Corliss note that,

For the seven decades since Walt Disney made Snow White, most animated features have followed the Disney mold: cute and colorful, with talking animals and a coming-of-age plot meant to inspire and amuse. Even a seeming exception like Persepolis found saving humor in its girl-grows-up story. Ari Forman’s Waltz With Bashir is a break from all this: an animated documentary about the lingering, subterranean effects of war on the director and some old friends who had served in the Israeli Army during the 1982 incursion into Lebanon. They are still haunted by the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, perpetrated by followers of the assassinated Christian Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayal.

Waltz with BashirAri Forman’s background is as a director of live-action documentaries and feature films. He first used animation to open each episode of The Material that Love is Made Of, a documentary TV  series. That an established live-action director made a move into animation is no longer a surprise, even for a documentary filmmaker.  (Michael Moore, who used animation in  Bowling for Columbine, subsequently announced he was going to make an animated film, though he has not yet followed through on  it.)

Animated theatrical movies have been taken seriously before, but that acceptance in the West has often been fleeting. For instance, there was no real follow up to Ralph Bakshi initial successes, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies took several years before reaching American screens, and Bill Plympton’s independent features have performed poorly viz-à-viz his short films. But  with critical excitement over Waltz With Bashir coming on the heels of Persepolis, the increasing acceptance by live-action directors of animation and independent animation filmmakers finally starting to move into features, there is the promise of a new day dawning.

Whatever happens though, it looks like the next few years could be very interesting. In the meantime, check out the excerpt below and the film’s official website for trailers.

Persepolis

PersepolisCover of the 1st volume of the French edition of Persepolis. Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud based on Satrapi’s series of four autobiographical graphic novels, has just opened here in Atlanta after earning considerable praise elsewhere. These include nominations for Best Animated Feature Oscar and Annie Award, a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, and being the official French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Though I feared these accolades might be due more to the film’s intentions than its qualities, I am delighted to say they are well deserved.(The fact that it was a low-budget, $8.1 million cel animated film, done mostly in black and white, might have also helped its reputation.)

Caroline invite ses amis a same soiree de merde by Winshluss (Vincent Paronnaud). The film recounts Satrapi’s life in Iran both before and after the Shah’s overthrow, as well a stay in Vienna, where her parents send her to escape the Islamic Revolution. This politically-aware coming of age tale is certainly a refreshing change from conventional, Hollywood-style animated movies. It is Satrapi’s animation debut, though Paronnaud has had more experience in the field, mostly on TV series. Their relative lack of filmic experience occasionally shows through, but the power of the narrative soon makes one forget about its flaws.

It is hard to say who was responsible for what, but Paronnaud looks to have put himself at the service of Satrapi’s art, which bears little resemblance to his own underground comic style done he does under the name of Winshluss (see sample above).

Pietro Germi's Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned)In Michael Guillén’s interview posted on Twitch, Paronnaud says the two were influenced by Italian comedies for the family scenes, as well as “German expressionism for some of the décors.” The reference to Italian comedies, if he means the delicious social satires of Persepolis Pietro Germi, like Divorce Italian Style and Seduced and Abandoned (see picture on left), does ring true. As to German expressionism, the one thing that springs to mind is not so much the film’s décors but its frequent use of silhouetted figures, which cannot help remind one of Lotte Reiniger silhouette films. In any case, the influences seem to have positive.

Paul Fierlinger's Drawn From Memory Though much has been made of the autobiographical nature of Persepolis, especially as it follows the autobiographical tradition in the world of the graphic novel, one should realize that strong biographical films have also been emerging in animation. For instance, two of the past three winners of Best Animated Short Subject Oscars have been biographical films: Chris Landreth’s Ryan and John Canemaker’s The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, both of which are exceptional films. However, in terms of approach, Persepolis is more like Paul Fierlinger’s feature-length Drawn from Memory (pictured above) made for PBS, as both deal with life under oppressive political regimes. (Fierlinger’s film recounts his life as the son of a Czech diplomat who grows up in America and becomes miserable when his parents bring him to Communist Czechoslovakia.)

Needless to say, I find animated documentaries to be one of the most exciting areas in animation and is something I hope to talk about more in the future. In the meantime, Persepolis is an easy film to recommend.