WestEnd Films has acquired worldwide rights to political thriller “Untitled Judo” and will introduce it to buyers at Berlin’s European Film Market (EFM).
The film, currently in post-production, is co-directed by Guy Nattiv (Oscar winner for short “Skin”) and Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Cannes best actress winner for “Holy Spider,” and co-written by Elham Erfani (“The Case of Sacrifice”).
It features Arienne Mandi (“The L Word: Generation Q”) and Amir Ebrahimi in the lead roles, alongside Jaime Ray Newman (“Dopesick”), Nadine Marshall (“The Silent Twins”) and Mehdi Bajestani (“Holy Spider”).
The film follows 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.
“Untitled Judo” is the first feature film to be co-directed by an Iranian and an Israeli filmmaker – an act of defiance at a time when the Iranian government continues to criminalize any contact with Israelis, and state violence against women is amplified.
Nattiv 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.”
Nattiv will be in Berlin to present his new feature “Golda,” the biopic on Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir starring Helen Mirren, which will have its world premiere as a Berlinale Special gala.
Amir Ebrahimi said: “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.”
Erfani added: “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. 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. 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.”
The acquisition of “Untitled Judo” falls under WestEnd’s brand WeLove, aimed at developing and producing female-specific content and promoting female talent. Range will co-represent North America alongside WestEnd.
WestEnd’s managing director Maya Amsellem said: “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.”
The film is produced by Adi Ezroni (“Save Yourselves!”) and Keshet Studios’ Mandy Tagger Brockey (“A Late Quartet”) alongside Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman from New Native Pictures. Keshet Studios produces in association with White Lodge Productions, New Native Pictures, Maven Pictures, WestEnd Films, Tale Runners and Sarke Studios.
Tagger Brockey said: “Here at Keshet Studios, we’re drawn to compelling stories that are entertaining, but that also have meaning and are about important issues – stories with potential for positive change.”