Amid the daily news “packages” on the recurrent onslaught of murder in Gaza, sits the regulation feature on the rising role of social media in modern conflict. The civilian on the street doubling as handheld eye-witness circumnavigating sponsored camera crews and editorial policies to give the world in-our-face, access-all-areas updates in real time.
The social media’s attack on sophisticated propaganda and news management is undoubtedly a phenomenon that tears up the rule book on war reporting. Even so, the experiences of those recruited for combat remain off-limits. The access-all-emotional-areas of those young men conscripted into forces defending their lands be it in a uniform or headscarf.
Most of us are veterans of watching war reports and war films, but few war veterans are reporters or filmmakers. Ari Folman is one. Conscripted into the Israeli Army, he fought as a 19 year-old soldier in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. His 2008 documentary film Waltz With Bashir recounts the experiences of his young military self and the rest of his squad on that shared front-line.
What sets the film apart from other talking head documentaries is the animation format through which these are captured. It enables the film to accommodate the hallucinatory and fractured quality of the memories of men from a time when they had barely crossed the threshold of adulthood. The wooziness, and the tricks memories play, plays on the power of the viewer’s interpretation. We’re kept guessing throughout. That the film was applauded by both the Israeli government and supporters of Palestinian liberation leaves sufficient ambiguity for choice.
But it’s not all detached reconstruction. The sudden shift to real film footage in the closing minutes reveals the final, inescapable, confrontation between the soldier and his memory. Like the daily feeds down cables and phone cameras today, the footage speaks for itself: the pile-up of dead Palestinians, wailing widows, and Bashir just out-of-sight.
It took a long time to rise from the seat and exit the cinema.