Roger Corman, Avi Nir and Guy Nattiv Honored at Israel Film Festival

Todd Williamson for January Images/Israel Film Festival
From left: Guy Nattiv, Avi Nir, Meir Fenigstein and Roger Corman

Director Guy Nattiv is a testament to the Israel Film Festival. After submitting his shorts to IFF for the last 10 years and getting his Academy Award-winning short 'Skin' turned into a feature-length film, he was honored at Thursday's IFF luncheon alongside legendary director-producer Roger Corman and Keshet Media Group CEO Avi Nir.

“Motion pictures and television are, I think, a great unifying force throughout the world,” director-producer Roger Corman told The Hollywood Reporter during the pre-cocktail social at the 33rd Israel Film Festival Luncheon on Thursday afternoon. 

The gathering brought together film executives such as Boaz Davidson, head of development and creative affairs for Millennium Films, to celebrate Corman’s Hollywood legacy. The event also honored Keshet Media Group CEO Avi Nir and Academy Award-winning helmer Guy Nattiv. A long-standing tradition of recognizing leaders passionate about Israeli cinema, the luncheon is also a fundraiser for IFF in Los Angeles.

“We are trying to raise half of our budget,” Meir Fenigstein, executive director and founder of IFF, told THR.

Fenigstein started the festival as a young man studying music at Boston University. When he was offered the opportunity to take Israeli films to America, he did so, intending to screen the pics over four days in Boston. At the end of the first day, Fenigstein told THR, a doctor told him that everyone should know about his mini-festival: "[He said] 'I'm going to put it in the Boston Globe.' He took out an ad on Sunday — it's expensive — it was a half a page. And the last day of the festival, we had screenings with 600 seats, sold out completely.”

Since then, IFF has grown to become the largest Israeli film festival outside of Israel, which Nir described as an incubation for great talent and writing. Such an incubation of talent has not only led to Nir’s success as a creative executive, but it has produced director Nattiv, a modern-day example of that incubation. 

"[IFF, where] I have shown all my films at for the last 10 years, has been a champion for Israeli cinema,” Nattiv told THR. “And I'm honored to be here and represent Skin.” His 2019 Oscar-winning short has been transformed into a feature starring Jamie Bell. 

Once everyone was seated for lunch, master of ceremonies Elon Gold began the programming with jokes about the Israeli American experience before director Joe Dante (Hawaii Five-O) took the stage.

"We all are familiar with the roster of people who have gone through what we euphemistically call the 'Roger Corman Film School,'" Dante said. "One of the things that people always associate with Roger is the number of [celebrities] who have gone through the film school, but what people forget is, for every Scorsese, there were five art directors and three casting directors. In fact, the structure of the picture business would be completely different if Roger Corman had never existed. His wake left so many people doing the thing that they love.”

Dante presented the IFF Lifetime Achievement Award to Corman, who then explained why the award and IFF meant so much to him. “I think one of the greatest things that filmmakers can do is to show the culture of their countries and their way of living to the world, so that it fulfills part of a mission of bringing the world together,” Corman said to applause.

Rick Rosen, founding partner of WME and current IFF chairman, talked about Nir’s eye for story before presenting Nir with the IFF Visionary Award. Rosen said that Nir being “the most important television executive in Israel” sparked his interest in meeting him. They subsequently became friends, and that friendship provided the opportunity for Nir to pitch him the story that would inspire the successful Showtime series Homeland.

After Nir shared a childhood memory of his father building an antenna so that they could watch American television in Jordan, Academy Award-winning producer Jaime Ray Newman approached the stage to introduce Nattiv, her husband, before presenting him with the IFF Achievement in Film Award.

“[Nattiv] read an article in the Israeli newspaper about a very famous neo-Nazi who reformed — this was in 2010 — and he called me up and said, ‘This is the movie I want to make.’” That decision led the couple to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet with reformed neo-Nazi Bryon Widner for his story rights.

“Cut to 2016: Guy was living in the U.S.,” Newman continued. “And we went out to many producers and everyone passed [on Skin] because they said, 'Well, Hillary Clinton's about to become president. There's no more racism in America.' So Guy had the brilliant idea of making a short film as a proof of concept, and that short film went on to win the Oscar. We got to make our feature off of that. The feature's coming out via A24 in July, which is amazing. All that is to say, I think it takes someone who believes in themselves and believes in art as a [life mission for change].”

Nattiv’s involvement with IFF as well as his success story aligns with the festival’s creative energy, Fenigstein said. Set to run Nov. 12-26, IFF will create an atmosphere for synergy between Jews and non-Jews.