It seemed almost impossible and yet it happened: an animated film produced in a country with hardly any experience in animation, with a minuscule budget of less than $2 million and a crew of just 15, managed to win one of the most prestigious international film prizes.
Early yesterday morning, "Waltz with Bashir" became only the third Israeli film ever to win a Golden Globe for best foreign language film (it was preceded by "Sallah Shabati" in 1965, and "Ha-shoter Azulai" , also known as "The Policeman," in 1972), and this despite the frequent denunciations from the international media aimed at Israel.
At the Beverly Hilton auditorium in Hollywood, far from the thundering artillery of the Gaza Strip, Ari Folman, the screenwriter, director and producer of "Waltz with Bashir," stepped onstage and movingly thanked his wife and partners in creating the film, which presents his journey in the wake of memories from the time he served as a young soldier in the first Lebanon war. In his short acceptance speech, Folman chose to dedicate the prize to the eight children born to the film crew while working on the film and expressed the hope that for them the film and the war it depicts would seem like an outdated video game.
Although Folman did not directly refer in his comments to the fighting now going on in the south, behind the scenes at the ceremony, after he was presented with the Golden Globe award, which is granted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, he said in front of the cameras, that unfortunately, this film is always relevant. It has a single, central, anti-war declaration that is relevant, he said, and unfortunately was relevant two years ago as well, when they were working on the film. However, he added that he himself remains very optimistic - otherwise he would not have made the film.
The team that worked with Folman on the film spent the night between Sunday and Monday in front of a television screen and with a lot of alcohol in a Tel Aviv pub, in tense anticipation.
"We didn't sleep all night," said Yael Nahlieli, who produced the film together with Folman. "We started watching the broadcast at 1 A.M., in order to get ready; at 4:20 A.M. we already prepared the champagne bottles on the side, and then came the announcement. There is no one happier than us at the moment."
Yoni Goodman, the film's animation director, who had to invent original techniques to realize the ambitious animation project on a shoestring budget and with a team of just eight animators, sounded excited.
"In the days before the ceremony, there was a lot of buzz around us potentially winning, so in the best of the Cannes Film Festival tradition, we prepared ourselves for a situation in which we could win, but in the end don't win ["Waltz" competed in the official competition in the most recent Cannes Festival, and, despite the enthusiastic reviews and contrary to all the forecasts, did not win a single prize there]. Surprisingly, this time we managed to win it anyway, and the moment they announced the winner, there were many shouts of joy and lots of champagne flowed. When we worked on the film, we were busy mostly with creating it, which was an impossible task in and of itself. We had fantasies, but in our rosiest dreams, we didn't believe we'd go so far. What has happened with this film over the last year is incomprehensible to us, because we never imagined that we could expect such an overwhelming success."
David Polonsky, the film's art director, who drew around 80 percent of the lovely drawings in "Waltz with Bashir," yesterday morning made himself hoarse with all his whooping with his friends for a long time after the announcement, in order to vent some of the excitement.
"Afterward," he said, "there was a lot of talk along the lines of 'remember how we worked on the film, how it all came about,' and we constantly said that everything that has been happening lately with the film lacks any proportion. I sat alone at home and drew these drawings, and now this film is the winner of the Golden Globe! It's really all out of proportion."
Winning the Golden Globe is likely to contribute considerably to the marketing of "Waltz with Bashir" in the United States, where it started showing in theaters last month, as well as in sales of an accessory comic book created by Folman and Polonsky that is expected to be released there next month, and will soon also be published in Israel. But for now, all eyes are on the next challenge, and the biggest one of all: contending for the prestigious Oscar.
Winning the Golden Globe Award, acknowledges Polonsky, sparked expectations and hopes in the team for the upcoming announcement (on January 22) of the final nominees for the Oscar awards.
"Now we will be disappointed if we are not among the candidates for an Oscar," he said. "I believe that we have a better chance of being a candidate in the foreign language category than in the animated category. And for us, if we earn such a nomination, it would be like winning the prize itself."
In an emotional phone conversation with Folman after the victory, they were already talking about the next project.
"Ari was the most excited I've ever seen him. He really had a hard time getting the words out. Others perhaps didn't notice this, but we who know him, could see his excitement," added Polonsky. "When we spoke to him on the phone afterward, we were already discussing the next film."
The group will start working on a new project shortly, after Folman returns to Israel, and the excitement of the glamorous Hollywood ceremonies settles down. It is a new film, partly animated and partly live action, based on the science fiction novel "The Futurological Congress," published by the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem in 1971.
Following the success of "Waltz with Bashir," presumably Folman's next film will have a larger budget and the possibilities open to the animation team will be broader.
"I have already done a few preparatory sketches," Polonsky said yesterday. "It may take a little more time to raise the funds, but such victories are great leverage for budgets and doing many more things."