Only three months ago, Guy Nattiv won his first Oscar for a short film entitled Skin, offering the best possible lead-up for his feature of the name same, out this July. Rooted in a jaw-dropping performance by Jamie Bell, the feature centers on Bryon Widner, a tattoo-covered skinhead, who decides to turn his back on the hate with which he was raised, going through a tremendously painful process to have every bit of offensive ink removed from his skin.
Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, the feature version of Skin predates the short, and while the pair of projects examine similar themes, the specific stories they tell differ. When Nattiv moved to the United States four and a half years ago, he wrote the feature script, only to find that no one was interested in financing the project. “Most producers told me, ‘Hillary [Clinton] is about to become President, and there aren’t neo-Nazis in the States. It’s just a bunch of people; it’s not really a problem,’” the director recalled, speaking with Deadline in Tribeca, as his film made its latest appearance on the festival circuit.
Compelled to examine American race relations and the origins of hate, Nattiv decided to move forward with a short-form project on the subject, when a concept pitched to him by producer Sharon Maymon coincided with an a story he read online. “I saw an article about a neo-Nazi father who taught his son how to shoot illegal Mexicans [on] the border. He was 10, the son, and when one night the father came home drunk at 2 a.m., the son shot him in the head,” the director explained. “So, that kind of [completed] for me the entire story.”
By the time Nattiv and his wife, Jaime Ray Newman, made the short and shared it with producers, the world had changed dramatically. “Trump got elected, Charlottesville happened, and the massacre at the synagogue happened, so everything became about pockets, and people that are skinheads,” Nattiv noted. “It became a national problem, [that continues] today.
Suddenly, the director’s feature script for Skin had aligned with the zeitgeist, and the film found its backers. In conversation with Deadline, Nattiv spoke about his first meetings with Widner, and what it was they taught him. “Bryon Widner and I met five years ago. He was the first neo-Nazi skinhead I met; I’m the first Israeli Jew he met. So, we met in a coffee shop, in a no man’s land. It was bizarre, surreal, but we became best friends,” the director shared. “He became like family, which [goes] to show you that it’s all about brainwashing those kids. It’s all about the hate that you’ve been taught as a kid.”
“He told me, ‘I hated Jews, and I did not understand why. I didn’t even know why I hated people,” Nattiv continued. “That’s the message of the film, that a lot of these people [were] being taught since they were kids to hate, and when they want to do the shift to become better people, we need to have an open door for acceptance.”
Featuring Danielle Macdonald, Mike Colter, Vera Farmiga, Bill Camp, and Mary Stuart Masterson, Skin will be released on June 27 through DIRECTV, before hitting theaters on July 26 through A24. For more from our conversation with Nattiv, take a look above.
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