By Sabrina Furminger
WALL is simultaneously a sumptuous visual feast and a provocative deep-dive into an incendiary subject: the 708-kilometre wall separating Israel and Palestine. Written by and starring dramatist and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (The Hours, The Reader) David Hare, the feature-length animated film invites its audiences on an unprecedented journey along both sides of the wall and into the hearts and minds of the people who live there.
The 80-minute film was directed by Canadian filmmaker Cam Christiansen and produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Christiansen and co. utilized 3D motion-capture footage, advanced animation techniques, and a monochromatic colour palette to give vivid life to Hare’s journey of understanding, which began in 2009 as a socio-political theatrical monologue.
WALL (the film) screens at VIFF Vancity Theatre this month. We spoke with Cam Christiansen about his WALL journey, as well as the challenges associated with shining a light on one of the world’s most controversial building projects.
Q: Before WALL was a film, it was a theatrical monologue. What connection exists between what we see on screen and the original play?
CAM: There’s a fair amount, actually. We adapted it in the sense that we wanted to make it more visual. Originally, it was one guy standing on a stage and talking, so we created a fictional storyline of the three characters going through the West Bank. The whole intention of that was to try to show, in an abstract way, what the wall is about on a day-to-day level, and the physical reality of the wall for Palestinians.
Q: What kind of filming did you do on the ground in the Middle East?
CAM: We went there to document everything that David had talked about in his monologue. We visited every single location and I took photographs of everything and used them to make all of the computer models [for the animation]. I wanted to ground the subject in the truth of the place, given that I’m not Israeli or Palestinian, so it was important for me to show that we tried our best to ground it in the actual place.
Q: What challenges did you face making WALL, and how did you overcome them?
CAM: It is such an ambitious film, and we accomplished a lot with a small crew. The National Film Board has only made two feature-length animated films in its history; the resources needed to create a feature film are monumental. A lot of things we were doing with motion capture and facial cameras were quite new at the time when we were doing it, and we created our own software in some cases specifically to make the film. In terms of the subject matter, we spent a lot of time trying to navigate the complex territory of the politics of it. How do you present it in a way that feels like it’s balanced? What is balanced? Is there such a thing as balanced? We asked ourselves all of these questions. We put a lot of thought and struggle into it.
Q: What kind of conversations would you like audiences to have once the film is over and the end credits are rolling?
CAM: I want people to feel like they’ve gained some new insights into this very complex topic. My favourite compliment I’ve received about WALL was that it’s an imaginative film about a subject that’s had no imagination for the last 40 years. We’re seeking to understand what’s happening and look at it from an outsider’s perspective and trying to see both sides. I went in thinking I would try to be neutral, but I learned that there’s no such thing as a neutral position on this topic.
WALL screens at VIFF Vancity Theatre on August 17, 18, 19, 21, and 23.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.