Waltz With Bashir is an animated documentary. It is a surrealist look an Israeli Army mission, through the imagination of a man who participated. The movie is apparently one of the most visually stunning, and yet horrifyingly graphic documentaries to come out in a long time. This year, it will not qualify for the Documentary category at the Oscars, but it is not for the reason you think.
As The Hollywood Reporter pointed out today, it's arcane Academy laws that will keep Waltz With Bashir out of contention. The Academy states: “An eligible documentary film is defined as a theatrically released nonfiction motion picture dealing creatively with cultural, artistic, historical, social, scientific, economic or other subjects. It may be photographed in actual occurrence, or may employ partial re-enactment, stock footage, stills, animation, stop-motion or other techniques, as long as the emphasis is on fact and not on fiction,” at Oscars.com. So, the problem is not the fact that that movie is animated.
The problem, is that is was not released between the dates of September 1, 2007 and August 31st, 2008. Oscars.com states that “Screenings during each of the qualifying runs must occur at least twice daily and must begin between noon and 10 p.m. The motion picture must be exhibited for paid admission, and titles and screening times must be advertised and listed during each of its runs in newspapers and/or magazines.” This means that if a movie has a later release date, like Bashir, the movie will not qualify for the Oscars, even though the feature film category dates are much later. It also means that many under-funded documentaries that do not have distribution by these obscenely early dates will have no chance at becoming contenders.
Some directors, like Stacy Peralta with Made in America, funded their own theatrical release in order to qualify for the category. With Bashir Sony Picture Classics, the distributor of the film, had to make a tough call: The New York Film Festival, or the Oscars. They chose the festival and decided to stick with the original release date, which is December 25th.
Waltz With Bashir follows director Ari Folman as he pulls the thread of a story that turns out to be longer, and more compelling than he ever expected. The story goes that Folman was having a conversation in a bar with an old friend; this friend tells him about a recurring dream that he can’t seem to shake, about a pack of dogs running after the dreamer.
Since the two had both been involved in an Israeli Army mission involving the first Lebanon War, the two decide that the dream must be a traumatic response to these events. Folman is shocked to realize that he can not remember anything from the time period, so Folman vows to discover the truth surrounding the events.
Folman interviews friends and comrades in arms. He pieces the story back together but makes it more compelling by supplementing his storytelling with animation. The film shows many upsetting images. Most critics seem to agree that the images shown would be too gristly for live action. The animation allows the story to be told, truly, through the eyes of the veteran and, at the same time, tells the gruesome story of a historically critical battle.
With the loss of Waltz with Bashir’s eligibility for the category of best documentary feature, the Academy loses its chances to have a movie that could have qualified for the best foreign-language, animated and documentary categories. It’s a shame we have to miss that amazing eclipsing of categories due to logistical constraints that seem ridiculous. The Academy’s reasoning seems to be that they want to get those docs out there, but I think I’d rather see the fully edited version, than the half-assed, done in time for the Oscars bullshit-sellout rules version.
I’ll be there on December 26th, ready to be horrified and saddened by the true events that sound like they are so artfully portrayed in such an amazingly apocalyptic style.