«Guy Nattiv is to Israel as Andrei Tarkovsky is to Russia»

Von Julieta Schildknecht

Twenty two years of many achievements – professionally as well as personally – a concise career of unprecedented success, impressive representativity for Israel’s 7th Art, Oscar Academy member and an admirable down to earth attitude.

I first approached Guy Nattiv after watching his film «Golda». It took us two phone calls and several email exchanges to set up a Zoom meeting. Then, the Gaza Conflict erupted. We decided to postpone the interview to November in order to discuss his impressive body of work in parallel with events and politics in Israel and the Middle East.

Julieta Schildknecht: Why did you choose cinema when you are such a wonderful writer? Why not writing books?

Guy Nattiv: I have always been a visual person, ever since childhood. My imagination was always very vivid and in motion. I was captivated by the big screen when my father took me to the movies.

Cinema was always more captivating than books or any other form of art. When reading books and newspapers, I imagine the image and the story to be told.

I love photography, I love everything that is connected to colour or black and white. I suppose I have a very photographic memory. But I think in moving pictures. It is completely natural to me to write moving pictures.

So, yes, I write but I write while listening to music and imagining the visuals.


JS: How important is music in your work?

GN: Very important. As I mentioned, I write and think to music. When I’m driving, I’m listening to film soundtracks.

However, not every movie needs a soundtrack. There are movies that are very powerful when they are silent.


JS: What music do you listen to?

GN: My Spotify is organised by different categories and my music library is filled with inspiration:

I love to listen to soundtracks from movies; a mix of all sorts of styles including classical.

Since I started writing my new film about the first stunt woman in Hollywood I’ve been listening to a lot of 60’s, 70’s and 80’s music.


JS: Who are your favourite composers?

GN: Alberto Iglesias who worked on Almodovar’s films; Gustavo Santaolalla is one of the my influences; Theodor Shapiro and Alexandre Desplat are amazing; Carter Burwell who is scored most of the Coen Brothers’ movies; Nicholas Britell… so many! Alex Weston, James Homer, Cliff Martinez, obviously John Williams. There are so many great composers. Do you know Evgeny Galperine? He wrote the score for is Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless. He is a great composer. I met him in LA.


JS: Are you going to work with Galperine?

GN: Hopefully in the near future, yes, but he is very busy.

I also love Under the Skin composer, Mica Levi. She is amazing. She did Jackie, Zola, Monos.

I also like composers of older work, like Herbie Hancock who wrote the soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up


JS: But mostly contemporary artists, right?

GN: Yes, I am also greatly influenced by composers like David Shire who made the Soundtrack for Coppola’s film The Conversation. Fantastic film. The list of composers who influence my work is long.


JS: Do you see yourself composing the soundtrack for one of your own films?

GN: I wish! I don’t have the musical training but I do have a musical ear and I know which soundtrack is right for my films.


JS: I would like to quote what you said in one of your many interviews “I am telling narratives that are thought provoking, part of a message in our/every person’s reality.”

One can see this approach in Life Unexpected Will it be the same with Harmonia, the film about your Grandmother and Yogaville?

GN: Yes. That’s my next movie.


JS: Your Oscar-winning film Skin is dedicated to your Grandfather Rubin Monowitz. How autobiographical are your films?

GN: Every film that I make has a very personal component in it and I am touching current subjects and social political matters… If you look at all my films until now, Skin and Skin short, Tatami and obviously Golda, they are all touching very specific political and social elements with a message.

Harmonia is my most personal family story; less political, less social. The Stuntwoman is more social, is in a way it is an Irene Brokovich story.


JS: How do you chose the subject for your films?

I swore that when coming to America I wouldn’t only make entertainment films, nor films that are only popcorn movies. It doesn’t interest me, as somebody who came from such a troubling country and who grew up hearing horrible stories from my heroes Grandfather and Grandmother who survived the WWII Holocaust.

I am still standing by my promise. I am making films that matter, that are thought provoking, that people talking about after they leave the theater. I grew up with films in the 70’s and 80’s that changed my life. My films touch people’s lives.


JS: Is Harmonia about the right to be buried in the land where you were born?

GN: It is more about rebirth of a woman who at the age of 55 wasn’t happy with her life. She decided to disconnect from her family, fell in love with a dancer who was a cult leader, got divorced and started a new life with a new person and a new name.

It questions the meaning of happiness. Is it about living in pain with your family for the rest of your life? Is it about a mainstream course or an alternative modus vivendi? And it is about how to release your mother when she tells you she wants to have her freedom? What does it mean to have your own freedom? What is the cost of happiness?

Harmonia is about the adventures and life shift my grandmother decided to embrace. The film questions what is a cult and what is a belief. It talks about the manipulation she experienced. Is it okay to be buried in a tree trunk? Or, as a jew do you have to be buried according to the jewish tradition? What is right and what is wrong?


JS: Your films refer to political and cultural differences but they also touch on the many cultural similarities between Middle East countries. They approach the trivialities that touch any viewers hearts just like in Strangers. Do you see a parallel to Shakespeare, the Iliad, the Old Testament or Torah when you are writing or directing?

GN: I don’t think about it but Golda has a lot of Shakespearean elements – the things that Golda goes through. Every good story has a Shakespearean DNA. Every good story has some Torah element as well the crime and punishment approach from the Old Testament. The parallels exist but they are not planned.


JS: Which films were your first feature and documentary films and when were they made?

GN: My first feature film was Strangers in 2007 directed with Terez Tadmor.


JS: As part of a trilogy, together with Offside and Dear God, right?

GN: Yes! I made shorts before. The first short was in 2003. Offside was made in 2006 and Strangers in 2007.


JS: The beauty about this trilogy is your slight touch of sarcasm. Could you talk a bit about that touch?

GN: Humour and Cynicism are necessary when you talk about heavy subjects such as war. The situations we are living in are absurd sometimes, we need to have it in our movies to balance heavy issues in our lives.

It also depend on how you approach the matter. Strangers has Cynicism, Offside deals with humour and absurd situations. I would call it absurd drama.



JS: Your colour palate is worth mentioning. The green tones, grey tones, light mustard in Magic Men, Skin and Golda. The Black and White in Tatami and Strangers. Do you see it as a signature or a trend?

GN: I try to have my own style but every movie is different. Skin had a different style to Tatami. Tatami is a homage to Black and White films from the 70’s. Skin the feature film is a more handheld realistic cinema. Quite different.


JS: Skin is a pretty heavy and amazing feature film.

GN: Thank you so much. It was a low budget film but we tried to keep it as authentic as possible. The is a lot of green, brown… the palette of white supremacism in America.


JS: Beautiful photography not always side shots but personal close shots from the back of actors.

GN: I like to get really close to my characters in extreme close-ups. I love becoming visually tactile in a very wide shot, this is my style.


JS: The use of symbols such as windows are also interesting details in your films.

GN: It’s the voyeurism of life. Windows surround us – all the time. I am now looking at my computer and to the window out to my garden.


JS: In Skin and Tatami, you deal with the enemies who become friends. In Tatami, you are working with Iranians and Israelis. In Golda, it’s Israelis and Palestinians.

GN: I love to polarise especially with people who are supposed to be my enemies – because the government decided they are my enemies – but in reality they aren’t. I like to collaborate with talented artists. The collaboration with Iranian female warriors was really amazing.


JS: What we see now, the huge tension between cultures in the Middle East is a tension between sibling cultures. The artists are working with you in a very relaxed and peaceful environment.

GN: I think if you are outside of Iran or Israel you are someone somehow exiled. It is much easier to collaborate outside of our conflicted country. It is easier to take perspective.

I love to tackle these difficult subjects … For instance, when you go to film festivals and you meet people that are supposed to be your enemy because that is what was taught at school… like Palestinians, Iranians or Egyptians. We love the same music, we love the same food, we love the same cinema, we grew up with the same culture.

Just because our leaders and governments decided that we will be enemies, decided they are going to teach the kids that Iranians are enemies, it isn’t true!

Behind those enemy lines, when you are outside that environment, you can look at each other as human beings. There is something I experienced when I filmed Tatami. When I met my Iranian collaborators, we found ourselves like one family.

The conflict is a product of the government, Prime ministers and leaders who are thriving on war. They want to scare us and that’s how they make their political agenda. This kind of threat helps them continue to rule. In reality, this isn’t the case.

Most people in Iran don’t hate jews. It is just what Iranians were taught to do. I am sure there are many Palestinians who don’t identify with Hamas. They don’t want Hamas. There are toxic leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu who are trying to set us against Iran. Our people can have friendship and peace.


JS: Let’s talk about «Golda», the film you made about the Yom Kippur War. It is a film that in a way became a premonition of what happened on October 7th. In one interview at the time of the premier you said: “it is clear that this can happen again.”

It is film that became a difficult project. It was made during the pandemic in 2021, the initial budget of $80 million was cut in half. Its world premiere was on February 2023 at the Berlin International Film Festival. In the first month it had 200 thousand viewers and $5 million revenue.

GN: The film is a hit because of the war. You can watch it online now. Amazon, Paramount Plus,Vudu, Apple TV, Redbox. And Prime Video is streaming the film. Delta Airlines is screening it onboard its flights as well.

Golda became relevant because predicted something 10 times worse than the Yon Kippur War.

The military commanders and the politicians think they know it all. They are in fact deaf and blind and can’t see anything.

As you see in the movie, it happened again on October 7th. I remember someone holding the Iranian flag saying the members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are just like as the ones Israel had in 1973.

The difference is that Golda took responsibility and resigned because she couldn’t bare her guilt. Benjamin Netanyahu is holding to his throne and will do everything he can to remain in power. Not that he has much chance any longer, but he is trying. Thank God, he is leaving but we have had to pay a big price for his mistakes.

[I don’t quote understand this quote] – “Unfortunately, I am quoting Helen Mirren, the extreme Governments and the extreme right wing, is not only in one country but all over the World.” We can see it in Italy, in Turkey, Russia, China, Hungary, Holland, Argentina. Thank God Germany takes a better position.


JS: Why did you decide to make a film about Golda?

GN: When I got the project, I didn’t write the script and it was a ‘director-for-hire ‘situation. When I received the script it was an Amazon project, it was $80 million and basically like Private Ryan. It was a War movie with tanks, explosions, the whole package. Golda’s story was only 20 percent of the film. The film was called Golda but it was really about the Yon Kippur War.

I really wanted to tell the story of Israel’s third prime minister. For decades Golda was considered a pariah in Israel. She was someone to be ashamed of.


JS: A wonderful woman and fantastic leader.

GN: I know but it was easy for all the men in her government to blame the woman who wasn’t Sabra (a Jew born in Israel). She took the blame and resigned.

Nothing in Israel mentions her name. There are streets named after Ben-Gurion and other leaders’ but not Meir. She was hidden.

I always questioned why? When documents were declassified, then I understood that she was not fully responsible.


JS: It is so impressive that scene you constructed showing her versatility in spite of being so ill. She testifies in court carefully and accurately answering all the questions while going through her little notes. A beautiful homage where you nearly questioned her place in history.

GN: Thank you. If I had more time and the budget, I would show other facets of her character. I think we could do a mini series on her person.

Going back to the film … when we lost the budget, I thought that it would be a great opportunity for us to bring the war into the room rather than shoot the war outside. The way Golda experienced that was through sound: the constant ringing of phones and the 2am conversations.


JS: …like the ones with her friend Henry Kissinger.

GN: That is real. That is something we got from Kissinger himself who is 101 years old and who met Liev Schreiber and told him about the conversation. I was impressed. There were so many layers we decided to approach, including her disease, her physical fight as a metaphor for Israel’s fighting, its political illness.


JS: …her assistant Lou Kaddar’s devotion?

GN: Yes, that’s something that was cut. They were very close. There are scenes showing them sleeping together. Hopefully they will be included in the director’s cut. Their relationship is a movie by itself.

What drove me in this project was basically to tell the story of this leader no one knew about.

The 10 days Yon Kippur War, was something I grew up with because I was a baby when it started. My mother went to the shelter with me, while my father went to fight. So this film is very personal.

What I like about the film is that I am telling the story of a 78 year old woman. There are not many scripts like Golda … and obviously working with Dame Helen Mirren who is one of the best actresses of our time!


JS: I am sure you will get another Oscar for this film.

GN: There are so many amazing films this year. Of course the War might influence people’s choice. We did our share, we are receiving a great response and hopefully the film will have many viewers.


JS: So far, you have been a role model to your country in many ways. I was impressed by the 45 minutes Bearing Witness – a film you made using the IDF’s raw footage of the Hamas attack on the 7th of October.

GN: I felt the urge to give voices to the families that asked me to help. My Grandfather said that when he was in Poland and his family was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, the people who said nothing were the neighbours. The baker who sold them bred every morning, the men who said ‘Good morning,’ everyday. Those were the people who waved goodbye and said nothing.

So I am not going to remain silent when I see atrocities against my people. When I am seeing how close it is to be at a Holocaust: the rape, the burning of the children, the kidnapping. Not since the WWII Holocaust have we experienced something like that.

For me to give those voices a platform was a Mitzvah.


JS: What comes after the defeat of Hamas?

GN: I am not a politician who can say tell what will happen, but I can tell you what I hope for.

I hope it will be like what came after the Yom Kippur War, Two visionary leaders made peace: Anwar El-Sadat who was later tragically murdered, and Menachem Begin. The peace accord continues and has saved millions of lives.

I hope that after Hamas is gone and we have all buried our dead and mourned as two nations, that there will be new leadership in Israel and Palestine. A leadership that will make peace, build two-state solutions and transform Gaza into a thriving, beautiful, unarmed, peaceful riviera. A beautiful and developed Palestine without Hamas.

Hamas is like Isis. Instead of investing in the culture, infrastructure and housing, they forgot and destroyed their own people.
There is CCTV from the hospitals in Gaza showing Israeli captives brought the. Hamas used the hospitals and tunnels under Hospitals to hide captives. They weren’t injured. Hamas weapons were kept under Hospitals.

We can not allow Hamas to make everyones lives miserable. The same is true in the West Bank. We cannot accept extremists.

There could be a bridge between Gaza and the Westbank and have both as one same country.

Israel left Gaza in 2006 and development has stagnated after Hamas’ arrival.

Look what happened with Hezbollah. It became an army. The Iranian government and other extremists want to decimate jews.

I am not a fan of Benjamin Netanyahu. I think this is an opportunity to replace him with someone with vision who is able to make peace with a visonary Palestinian leader.

This is my dream. Will it happen? I don’t know.
If Palestine decides to keep an extremist Government, I am sure, Israel will not accept the massacre of October 7 happens again.


To finish the interview I would like you to connect some thoughts from the perspective of a film director:

JS: Eyes

GN: It is the view to the soul of a person; the most important thing in cinema is the eyes. They tell a story. In Golda, one of the things we didn’t touch were Helen Mirren’s eyes. They were the window to Golda’s soul. That is what I feel about eyes.


JS: Leadership

GN: For me, it is the people who sacrifice a lot to think about the people and not about themselves. Leaders are the ones who serve their people and their country. People like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill. These are leaders who changed the world and made a difference.
Leaders are not selfish or corrupt,


JS: Strategies

GN: To use a creative problem, solve skills to help organise a long term goal. To overcome problems solving thinking. Use a strategy to use your vision, planning and clarity.


JS: Shaped on the go

GN: I am leaving a lot of space for improvisation and sometimes mistakes are the most interesting moments to happen on set. Sometimes on the go you have to improvise together with your actors, together as a team. Improvisation is part of movie making which I love! I love to leave room for the unexpected that happen during a film make.


JS: Team work

GN: You cannot create anything without team work. Team works is what makes wonders. Cinema is a team work. The you are jiving with each other the more you are on the same page and you can fly high. Team work is so important to make a film happen… it is crucial to trust your team mates.


JS: Focused confidence

GN: Two abilities you need to lead a team, to achieve your vision. Without both there is nothing.


JS: Trust

GN: Another component crucial to a film director. You have to trust your team, your actors and most of all you have to trust yourself.


JS: Heart and soul

GN: There is no real art without the heart and soul. You cannot be just a technocrat, a technician.
Art isn’t only techniqu. It requires heart and soul. When you make a movie or a TV show, or anything which is connected to cinema, it has to be a manifestation of heart & soul. If you don’t have that you are not able to fly. Your vision will be damaged. Waking up in the morning to write a script is heart and soul. You need that. It’s like the fuel that makes you thrive.


JS: What are your future projects?

GN: One is Harmonia, which is already written and cast but I cannot talk about it openly yet. The other project is about the Stuntwoman who is in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and her perspective from today when she is 78 about her journey in Hollywood, how she was relentlessly exposed and revolutionary in her time.


JS: How important is the feminine role for your?

GN: I love feminine roles, I like writing for women, I love working with women. I think women are more interesting than men.


JS: Thank you so much for the interview, Guy!