In addition to the exciting tidbit that Michael Moore‘s next film will be a follow-up to Fahrenheit 9/11, the most enticing news from the Cannes Film Festival, which just concluded, is about an Israeli documentary called Waltz with Bashir. It’s a fully animated film by a former Israeli soldier, Ari Folman, who’s trying to reckon with the massacre of Palestinians (and his involvement) during the 1982 war in Lebanon. I’ve been a strong advocate of the brilliant animated work applied to documentaries by the likes of Brett Morgen (Chicago 10) and Jessica Yu (In the Realms of the Unreal, POV 2005). The animated documentary has pretty much become a standard, with the likes of Michael Moore (remember the brief history of America in Bowling for Columbine?) and Morgan Spurlock (Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?) using it to strong comic effect.

Waltz with Bashir by Ari FolmanBut in this, Waltz with Bashir, we see the possibility that a fully animated — from start to finish — documentary could be a success. The reviews have been quite positive. It recalls the recent Persepolis, or Richard Linklater‘s fantastic Waking Life, a trippy film about a boy in a dreamlike state, that was entirely created with rotoscopic technology in which a regular live-action film is shot in video. Animators then “draw” over the images to create an eerily life-like medium. (OK, so maybe when the same technique is used in Charles Schwab commercials it feels more annoying than eerie.)

Director Folman spent $2 million and four years making the film. First, he conducted interviews, then wrote a screenplay in which he stars as himself journeying back into his memories. The script was entirely shot in a studio (so, for example, when he talks with someone in a car, the person on the set holds a prop steering wheel). He then edited the footage into a full feature and broke that footage up into a storyboard of frames. Then, the animation team illustrated all of the frames. You can check out the trailer — I think it looks phenomenal.

Of course, a film like Waltz with Bashir poses all sorts of interesting questions, like is it a friggin’ documentary in the first place if it’s all reenacted — and animated, to boot?

I’d say yes, but let’s wait to see the film. It’s going to be released in Israel in June, and it was just picked up by the guys at Sony Pictures Classics, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard. They released the animated films Persepolis and Triplets of Belleville and I know how smart and savvy they can be with unconventional films, so I’ve got a lot of hope for this one. It’s due for release some time this year.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen