The Israeli-Iranian film “Tatami” garners a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival

The inaugural collaboration between Iranian and Israeli filmmakers, the film “Tatami,” had to be clandestinely produced to avoid potential interference from Tehran, revealed directors Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Guy Nattiv on Sunday.

“Tatami,” a tense thriller set against the backdrop of a world judo championship, celebrated its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend, receiving a standing ovation.

The storyline unfolds over a single day of competition, focusing on an Iranian judo champion, portrayed by Arienne Mandi, a Farsi-speaking American actress. She is instructed to feign an injury to evade a potential match against an Israeli opponent.

Amir Ebrahimi and Nattiv filmed the project in Georgia, a country easily accessible to Iranians. They lodged separately, communicated in English, and carefully concealed the politically charged nature of their film.

“We were trying to keep it calm and secret since I knew there are many Iranians there,” explained Amir Ebrahimi, who not only directed the film but also stars as the increasingly anxious judoka’s trainer.

“It was a dangerous thing,” acknowledged Nattiv, whose previous film, “Golda,” premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Iran does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and has prohibited its athletes from competing against Israelis.

The inspiration for “Tatami” stemmed from an incident in 2021 when the International Judo Federation banned Iran for four years due to pressure on one of its fighters to avoid competing against an Israeli.

Amir Ebrahimi, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2022 for “Holy Spider,” fled Iran in 2008 to escape the threat of imprisonment and corporal punishment after a private video of hers was leaked.

She carefully weighed the potential consequences before accepting Nattiv’s offer to create the film. “What I have learned 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,” she remarked.

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