Placing memories with reality: Review of “Waltz with Bashir” film screening as part of Human Rights Festival
by Ignacio Álvarez PRIETO for Northern Ireland Foundation
8 December 2014
In association with the Human Rights Festival that is running from 8th-13th of December in Belfast, the Black Box venue screened the Israeli animated war documentary film, “Waltz with Bashir”, directed by former soldier and Israeli director, Ari Folman.
The film follows the search of the lost memories of Ari Folman during his experiences as an Israeli soldier during the 1982 Lebanon war and his recollections of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
It starts with the recurrent nightmare that one of Folman’s friends from his army service period has, connected with the Lebanon war. Ari finds that he doesn’t have any memories of that war himself, but later on he has a vision whereby he returns from a beach towards a city and encounters crying women – are these mothers and wives of those massacred at Palestinian refuge camps in West Beirut?
This leads him to seek people and friends that were in Beirut at that time, in order to understand what actually happened and to place his memories with reality.
Apart from former soldiers that took action in the war and were close to the place of the killings, Ari interviewed a psychologist that speaks of dissociated events in the minds of soldiers, referring how the mind can create an artificial reality, until it shatters; and the Israeli TV reporter Ron Ben-Yishai, who covered the siege of Beirut at that time and was the first journalist to enter the refugees camps after the massacre. Prior to this action, after being told by Israeli officers that a massacre was happening by the action of Lebanese Phalangistes’ forces, in retaliation of the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, Ron Ben-Yishai informed the Israel Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, of such atrocities.
The Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees happened from the 16th-18th of September 1982, carried out by Christian Lebanese militias. The number of deaths is disputed, but goes from 460 up to 3,500 civilians. The role of the Israeli forces was to surround the camps and station troops at the exits to prevent the escape of any refugee, and at the Phalangist request, the soldiers fired flares to illuminate the camps at night, action that Ari Folman happened to take part in, and therefore the reason of his vision.
This massacre was condemned and declared an act of genocide on 16 December 1982 by the United Nations General Assembly.
Ari Folman was born in Haifa to Holocaust survivors, and was a 19-year-old soldier when the massacre took place. His film ‘Waltz with Bashir’, which was first screened in May 2008 at Cannes and in June of the same year in Israel, has won several prestigious competitions, and has received wide acclaims from critics. It is currently banned in Lebanon, along with some other Arabs countries.
The Human Rights Festival receives its name from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the 10th of December is the Human Rights Day across the world.