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Guy Nattiv and Zar Amir Ebrahimi are to make history by becoming the first Israeli and Iranian filmmakers to co-direct a feature.
Unveiled at a time when the Iranian government still criminalizes any contact with Israelis and state violence against women is amplified, political thriller Untitled Judo is a collaboration aimed at shining a spotlight on the regime currently governing Iran.
The film — backed by Israel’s Keshat Studios and launched in Berlin by WestEnd Films, which has worldwide rights — follows an Iranian female judoka and her coach as they face life-changing decisions during the Judo World Championships. Nattiv — already in Berlin with his Helen Mirren-starring Golda Meir biopic Golda — will co-direct Untitled Judo alongside Holy Spider lead actress Ebrahimi (who will also star) from a script co-written by Elham Erfani.
Untitled Judo is a portrait of Iranian female judoka Leila (played by The L Word: Generation Q‘s Arienne Mandi) and her coach Maryam (Ebrahimi), who travel to the Judo World Championship, intent on bringing home Iran’s first gold medal. Midway through the competition, they receive an ultimatum from the Islamic Republic ordering Leila to fake an injury and lose. With her own and her family’s freedom at stake, Leila is faced with an impossible choice: feign injury and comply with the Iranian regime as Maryam implores her to do, or defy them both and fight on, for the gold. Jaime Ray Newman (Dopesick, Little Fires Everywhere), Nadine Marshall (The Silent Twins, Small Axe) and Mehdi Bajestani (Holy Spider) will also star.
“The story we’re telling in this film is the story of too many Iranian athletes who lost their lifetime opportunities, sometimes forced to leave their countries and beloved ones because of the conflict between systems and governments,” said Ebrahimi. “May this artistic and cinematographic collaboration with Guy be a tribute to them, beyond frenzies of blind hatred and mutual destruction.”
Untitled Judo is produced by Adi Ezroni (Save Yourselves!) and Keshet Studios’ Mandy Tagger Brockey (A Late Quartet) alongside Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman from New Native Pictures. Other crew members include director of photography Todd Martin (best cinematography winner at Tribeca 2021 for The Novice) and editor Yuval Orr (Strangers, Skin). The film is produced by Keshet Studios in association with White Lodge Productions, New Native Pictures, Maven Pictures, WestEnd Films, Tale Runners and Sarke Studios.
“It is a tremendous honor to be collaborating with these true creative forces of nature – Zar, Arienne and Elham, bringing this important story to life,” said Nattiv, who won an Oscar for his short film Skin, which was then developed into A24’s full-length feature. “Untitled Judo is more than a movie to all of us. It’s a creative statement to the world as thousands of innocent Iranian people are paying with their lives for freedom.”
The film, currently in post-production, falls under WestEnd’s WeLove label, aimed at developing and producing female-specific content and promoting female talent. Range will co-rep North America alongside WestEnd.
“As an Iranian woman who has experienced the suffocation of life in Iran and has a deep understanding of its problems, I wanted to bring to light the challenges faced by women in Iran,” said writer Erfani. “So many of us have been forced to leave our homes and loved ones in search of freedom and peace. Despite being separated by distance, this film reminds us that there is power in unity and resistance.”
Erfani added: “It is an honor for me to write this movie with Guy Nattiv and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a voice for the oppressed Iranian athletes, and to bring their stories to the world through this film.”
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