Zar Amir Ebrahimi & Guy Nattiv
Zar Amir Ebrahimi & Guy NattivPhotos: Kris Dewitte & 'Theo & Juliet'

The first feature film to be co-directed by an Iranian and an Israeli will be given an international release thanks to its acquisition by a London-based film company.

The film, Untitled Judo, is described as an intense political thriller about an Iranian female judoka and her coach as they deal with life-altering decisions during the Judo World Championships.

It was co-directed by Academy Award winning Israeli director Guy Nattiv (Skin, Golda) and Iranian actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Holy Spider, Shayda), and co-written by Iranian director and writer Elham Erfani (The Case of Sacrifice).

The worldwide rights to Untitled Judo have been acquired by WestEnd Films, ensuring that the film, which is currently in post-production, will be available internationally.

The film, described as being the first to be co-directed by an Iranian and an Israeli filmmaker “at a time when the Iranian government still criminalizes any contact with Israelis, and state violence against women is amplified,” is a collaboration that “in itself is an extraordinary act of defiance.”

Starring Arienne Mandi and 2022 Cannes Best Actress winner and co-director Zar Amir Ebrahimi in the lead roles, alongside Jaime Ray Newman, Nadine Marshall and Mehdi Bajestani, the movie’s central theme is to shine a light on the human rights abuses and extremism of the Iranian regime.

The movie portrays the story of Iranian female judoka Leila (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.

Co-director Nattiv, who also served as co-writer, described making the film as a “tremendous honor” that became a statement against the abuses of the regime in Iran.

“It is a tremendous honour to be collaborating with these true creative forces of nature – Zar, Arienne and Elham – bringing this important story to life,” he said. “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.”

Co-director and co-star Ebrahimi added: "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. May this artistic and cinematographic collaboration with Guy be a tribute to them, beyond frenzies of blind hatred and mutual destruction."

Co-writer Erfani explained that she personally relates to the story.

“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,” she said. “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. 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."

WestEnd’s managing director Maya Amsellem added: “We’re so honoured to be working with Guy and Zar on this incredible project. The story couldn’t be more timely given the current political and social context in Iran, and we strongly believe that the film will resonate with audiences all around the world.”