Amid the pain

Israeli-Iranian film ‘Tatami’ wins at Tokyo International Film Festival

Israeli director Guy Nattiv says Tokyo festival awards bring ‘some light’ amid the darkness of the war

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Guy Nattiv (left) and Zar Amir Ebrahimi, co-directors for 'Tatami,' who won awards at the Tokyo International Film Festival on November 1, 2023 (Courtesy)
Guy Nattiv (left) and Zar Amir Ebrahimi, co-directors for 'Tatami,' who won awards at the Tokyo International Film Festival on November 1, 2023 (Courtesy)

“Tatami,” the Israeli-Iranian co-production telling the story of Iranian athletes battling against their country’s extremist regime, received two awards at the 36th Tokyo International Film Festival.

Lead actress and co-director Zar Amir Ebrahimi won the Best Actress award, and the film was awarded a special jury prize.

Nattiv and Amir Ebrahimi were presented with their awards November 1 by the president of the jury, director Wim Wenders, along with Spanish director Albert Serra and Chinese actress Zhao Tao.

Israeli-born Nattiv, who currently lives in the US, said the awards brought “some light” amid the darkness of the current situation in Israel, following the Hamas massacres of October 7, killing some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages, prompting Israel’s war aimed at destroying Hamas in Gaza.

“Precisely now that everything is burning and painful in all this darkness, we received the news from Tokyo that brought us, Jews and Iranian exiles, some light,” said Nattiv. “Thank you to the Tokyo Festival, the president of the jury Wim Wenders and his team for being able to distinguish our little film amidst the world’s chaos, which tells about the struggle for humanity, freedom and equality and is a tribute to the millions of women who fight every day for the freedom to live.’

The film, the first collaboration of Israeli and Iranian filmmakers, Nattiv and Ebrahimi, tells the story of judoka Leila (Arienne Mandi) and her coach Mariam (Amir Ebrahimi), who travel to the World Judo Championships to bring home Iran’s first gold medal.

The storyline, written by Nattiv together with Iranian director Elham Erfani, tells about the match in which Leila is supposed to fight against an Israeli athlete.

Leila and Marian receive an ultimatum from the Iranian regime, ordering Leila to fake an injury and lose.

Leila is faced with the impossible choice of obeying the Iranian regime, and giving up on her dream, or refusing, fighting for the gold medal and facing the wrath of the Iranian regime.

The film also stars Jamie Ray Newman, Nattiv’s wife.

“Tatami” was produced by Keshet Studios, White Lodge, New Native and West End Films, which distributes the film internationally, and United King Films, which distributes the film in Israel.

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