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Venice Film Festival: Israeli-Iranian movie filmed undercover

 Directors Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Guy Nattiv attend a photocall for 'Tatami' on 2 September
Directors Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Guy Nattiv attend a photocall for 'Tatami' on 2 September Copyright John Phillips/Getty Images
Copyright John Phillips/Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue with Reuters
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The first production co-directed by Iranian and Israeli filmmakers had to be shot in secret to prevent possible interference by Tehran, according to directors Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Guy Nattiv.


A film which premiered at the Venice Film Festival the weekend to a standing ovation had to be shot in secret.

Tatami is the first movie co-directed by Iranian and Israeli filmmakers and had to be made under the radar in order to prevent possible interference by Tehran.

Directed by Iranian-French Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Israeli Guy Nattiv, the tense thriller centred on a world judo championship.

Taking place over the course of a single day of competition, it follows an Iranian judoka champion, played by Farsi-speaking US actress Arienne Mandi, as she is ordered to fake an injury to avoid a possible match-up with an Israeli competitor.

The movie was filmed in Georgia - a country open to Iranians.

Amir Ebrahimi and Nattiv stayed in separate hotels, spoke in public in English and made sure not to let anybody know they were making such a politically charged film.

"I knew there are many Iranians there, so we were trying to keep it calm and secret," Amir Ebrahimi, who also stars in the film, playing the judoka's increasingly terrified trainer, told Reuters.

"We were undercover. We knew it was a dangerous thing."
Guy Nattiv
Tatami filmmaker

Iran has long refused to recognise Israel's right to exist - and has frequently banned its athletes from competing against Israelis.

In 2021, the International Judo Federation gave Iran a four-year ban for pressuring one of its fighters not to face an Israeli.

That incident is said to have inspired the making of Tatami.

Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera, Jury members Jane Campion and Saleh Bakri take part in a flash mob in solidarity with the Iranian people on 2 SeptemberGUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/REUTERS

Director and actor Amir Ebrahimi, who scooped the Best Actress award at Cannes Film Festival in 2022 for Holy Spider, fled Iran in 2008 for fear of imprisonment and lashings after a private video of her was leaked.

She explained that she had to give the project serious thought, pondering the myriad potential consequences ahead of accepting Nattiv's offer to make the film.

"What I have learnt about the Iranian government is that as long as you are afraid they can arrest you, they can kill you, they can make trouble around you. But as long as you are not afraid... it is going to be fine," Amir Ebrahimi told Reuters.

John Phillips/Getty Images
Director Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, Ash Goldeh, Elham Erfani and director Guy Nattiv attend a photocall for TatamiJohn Phillips/Getty Images

Explaining the decision to shoot the film in black and white, using a tight, 4:3 format, Nattiv said: “These women are living in a black and white world. There are no colours. The box is the claustrophobic world they live in. That is the one thing they want to break. They want their freedom".

Nattiv and Amir Ebrahimi have agreed that children growing up in both Iran and Israel were made to fear the other country as implacable enemies, as existential threats.

Speaking at Venice, Nattiv revealed he had helped Amir Ebrahimi pay a clandestine visit to Israel - something that Tehran absolutely forbids for its citizens.

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