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'We're similar countries': Iran-Israel filmmakers unite in Venice

The collaboration between Israeli and Iranian filmmakers in Venice is indeed unprecedented, considering the longstanding political tensions between their respective governments. These filmmakers are aiming to bridge divides and set an example for greater unity between their people through the medium of cinema.

Published September 03,2023

Venice hosted an unprecedented collaboration between Israeli and Iranian filmmakers, who say there are similarities between their governments and hope they can set an example for greater unity between their people.

"Tatami", shown in the "Orizzonti" ("Horizons") section of the Venice Film Festival, recounts the story of an Iranian judo star who rejects her government's rules about never facing an Israeli athlete in an international competition.

It was jointly directed by award-winning Iranian actress Zar Amir, who also stars as the judoka's trainer, and Israel's Guy Nattiv, known for the recent biopic of Israeli ex-prime minister Golda Meir ("Golda").

"At school, I was taught that Israel does not exist," said Amir (who recently dropped her other surname, Ebrahimi).

"We are not allowed to work together, to meet, to make friends or compete with this imaginary enemy," she told AFP.

Amir, who now lives in exile in France, won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival last year for her part in "Holy Spider" as a journalist tracking down a serial killer of prostitutes in the Iranian holy city of Mashhad.

"In Iran, filmmakers can't really speak the truth. They can work on these subjects but it will only ever be half-truths," Amir added.

Iran's crackdown on filmmakers was underlined again last month when director Saeed Roustaee was reportedly given a six-month suspended prison sentence for screening his film "Leila's Brothers" in Cannes last year "without authorisation".

The sentence was condemned around the world, including by Martin Scorsese.

Nattiv said there were parallels between their two countries.

"Miraculously, you can see that in Israel and Iran the same kind of revolution is going on," he told AFP.

"In Israel it's against what Benjamin Netanyahu is doing against democracy. Millions of people are demonstrating, and women's rights are also being bashed again. The government is so extreme.

"We are kind of a similar countries, going through the same process in a way," he added.

Amir said she was "full of hope" about the protest movement that began a year ago in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for breaking the country's strict dress code.

"I think women are in the process of changing their situation and there is no going backwards," she said.

"I am touched by their bravery, especially that of the young generation."

"And the men are supporting the women -- that is new," she added.

"Tatami", which is due for release next year, has already been a hot topic in Israel.

"People -- I'm not talking about the government -- the people see it as a kind of a revolutionary thing to have this collaboration," said Nattiv.

"Hopefully it will open the way for more collaborations between Israelis and Iranians."