'It needed to be a story that I could tell from my heart and soul,' says filmmaker Guy Nattiv on his new movie. 'It needed to be a story that I could tell from my heart and soul,' says filmmaker Guy Nattiv on his new movie. 'It needed to be a story that I could tell from my heart and soul,' says filmmaker Guy Nattiv on his new movie. (Photo: Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock)

Oscar-winning Israeli director’s new film about redemption features a ‘tour de force’ performance

Actor Jamie Bell portrays the real-life racist who finds repentance and salvation.

Guy Nattiv is checking Rotten Tomatoes like it's the stock market.

"We're at 77%, and hopefully it will go up," the director told From The Grapevine when we reached him by phone. "They're very positive reviews, and I'm very happy that Jamie Bell is getting the recognition that he needs to get."

A lot has happened in the five months since Nattiv and his wife, producer and actress Jaime Ray Newman, won an Academy Award for their short film. The Hollywood couple has been traveling non-stop as they gear up for their feature film debut, "Skin" starring the aforementioned Bell, which opens in theaters this weekend. They've been to film festivals in Berlin and Italy, and back to Nattiv's native Israel to visit family. Nattiv's new status could be summed up in an icon: Facebook has bestowed upon him the verified blue check mark.

Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, the husband-and-wife winners of the 2019 Academy Award for Best Short Film, give their new statues a customary smooch. Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, the husband-and-wife winners of the 2019 Academy Award for Best Short Film, give their new statues a customary smooch. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

"It was a life-changing experience," Nattiv said of the Oscar. "Obviously, it opened a lot of doors. But you still need to manufacture your own content and up the game."

His latest film intends to do just that. It's based on the 2011 documentary "Erasing Hate," which follows the story of Bryon Widner, a reformed skinhead who had all of his racist tattoos removed. "As an actor, you can't judge the character you're playing," said Bell, who portrays Widner in the new movie. "You have to come from a place of empathy and understanding instead. You have to be able to walk in their shoes, which made this role a tricky thing to navigate."

There's no better way for an actor playing a living person to research their character than to meet them in the flesh, which Bell had a chance to do as he prepared for his role in the movie. "I felt the need to literally see his skin for myself," the actor revealed. "I had to look at his hands and face to see if there was any ink left there. If you didn't know this man had been through two years of surgery to remove his tattoos, you'd never believe that he had them in the first place. It was a remarkable thing."

The film also stars Vera Farmiga as well as Danielle Macdonald from the hit Netflix movie "Dumplin." Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, is a producer on the film. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, where it won the international critics prize. The Hollywood Reporter called Bell's performance "moving" and "powerful," while Rolling Stone wrote that Bell "delivers an awards-buzzed tour de force."

'It was an honest, warts-and-all story that reflected the world around us,' actor Jamie Bell (right) said about the film, seen here with co-star Danielle Macdonald. 'It was an honest, warts-and-all story that reflected the world around us,' actor Jamie Bell (right) said about the film, seen here with co-star Danielle Macdonald. (Photo: Courtesy A24)

Nattiv is not resting on his laurels. The 46-year-old Tel Aviv native is already hard at work on his next project. This one is also based on a true story. It's about his grandmother who left Israel, moved to Virginia and joined a cult. It's set to start filming later this year. Fellow Israeli Oren Moverman has already jumped on board as a producer. The story, Nattiv told us, "is about the pursuit of happiness at all costs."

And after that? Nattiv and Newman – who together run the New Native Pictures production company – are developing another version of "Skin," this time from the point of view of the main African American character in the movie.

At first glance, these stories may seem to have uniquely American themes, but Nattiv – who moved to the U.S. five years ago – feels that they are universal. "Unfortunately, it's very international," he said. "Thats why the 'Skin' movie is in 45 countries. There's racism everywhere in the world. It's spread out. This is something that touches everybody."

Nattiv will be traveling back to Israel in October to screen the film at the Haifa International Film Festival. "It will be very emotional for me in my home crowd," he said. "It's really great to get recognition by people who I admire."

With his feature film now arriving in theaters, Nattiv remains humble and grateful. "It's been a helluva ride for me this year." Asked what else has changed since winning the Academy Award, he laughed. "People are returning my calls now."

Filmmaking couple Guy Nattiv (left) Jaime Ray Newman (right) flank the star of their new movie, actor Jamie Bell (center). Filmmaking couple Guy Nattiv (left) Jaime Ray Newman (right) flank the star of their new movie, actor Jamie Bell (center). (Photo: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images)

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Oscar-winning Israeli director’s new film about redemption features a ‘tour de force’ performance
Actor Jamie Bell portrays the real-life racist who finds repentance and salvation.