“They get tattoos because they don’t like what they see.”
Jamie Bell, unrecognizable as a skinhead with a tattooed face,
is at the heart of Skin, an impressive radiography of white supremacist groups.
We met the director, Guy Nattiv, in Deauville.
By Jacques Braunstein
Reading time 5 min.
It is and impressive, tough and violent movie. Skin recounts the life of Bryon, a skinhead who joined a violent small group when he was 14 years old, and left it for love. He was helped by Daryl Jenkins, a black activist who — with his association One People’s Project — specialized in un radicalizing white supremacists.
Byron had 62 operations to get rid of his tattoos, especially those covering his face. We met the Israeli director Guy Nattiv (Nabul, 2010) in a suite at the Hôtel Royal in Deauville. “ Bryon told me : ‘they get tattoos because they don’t want to face the truth…Without the tattoos, they are bare, and they don’t like what they see.’’’ he told us. A paradoxal movie, that talks about America’s nightmare, while being a fairytale for its director. Explanations.
they get tattoos because
they don’t want to face the truth
How was this movie born?
My fiancée, the American comedian Jamie Ray Newman, and I had a long distance relationship and I wanted to move to the USA. I clearly wanted to make an American movie. One day, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles, reading the paper… and I saw a montage of Bryon Widner’s face with his tattoos being erased little by little, until he was back to normal. I was touched by his story. I immediately tried to contact him via MSNBC, who made a documentary about him : Erasing Hate. I wrote him to explain why I was the right person to tell his story. I mentioned my grand parents who survived the Holocaust, the fact that the first thing a tattoo reminded me of was the numbers on their arms… After a month, he answered me and offered to talk by Skype. It went well and he told me : “ If you are being serious, come see me in New Mexico.”. I booked a flight from Tel Aviv and my wife booked one from Los Angeles, and we arrived in Albuquerque — the land of Breaking Bad — in a coffee shop in the middle of the desert. I was the first jew he ever met, and he was my first (ex) skinhead… He was smart and nice, and he told me “ I hated Jews, and I didn’t even know any Jews. I was brainwashed.” A couple of days later, we had a deal.
After that, was the movie easy to make?
No, because no one wanted it…50 producers looked at the script and said “ We love your work in Israël, and it is a good script, but there isn’t really any neo nazis in the United States. The time of American Hostory X is over. ” Obama was president, and Hillary was going to be next. As much as I told them “I have done researches, I know what I’m talking about… ”, nothing worked. Jamie, who had become my wife in the meantime, told me “You have made lot of short movies, do it once more.” Doing a short movie with this story was like attempting the impossible. Then, an Israeli friend gave me an idea, and I did it. My wife and I put all of our money in this movie… Then Drumpf was elected, and there was Charlottesville, the synagogue massacre, and we won the Oscar for Short Movies. Everything changed.
The question is to choose
which family we belong to
Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Tintin, Snowpiercer…) is unrecognizable in this movie. It is the kind of role that he likes, isn’t it ?
He was not easy to convinced. He told me : “Why me ? I’m British and skinny.” It took him a long time to accept…All the while, in Hollywood, everyone wanted me to choose a sexy actress for the female lead. And I said “I want someone sexy, but who looks real, and who looks like she is from America’s heartland. ” When Jamie Bell heard that I had chosen Danielle McDonald (Every Secret Things, Patti Cake$…), he agreed : “ok, now I see where you are going with this.”
It is a movie about intolerance, but, curiously, also about family?
That s exactly what I wanted to tell. Sidnet Lumet, the director of Dog Day Afternoon, used to say “all my movies are about family. Because family is at the origin of drama…”. The question is to choose which family we belong to. The one who saved you and fed you when you were 14 years old, but also taught you hate…or a family funded on love. They are both families, but at one point, Byron has to make a choice.
Why does an Iraeli director chooses the talk about racism in the United states, rathe than at home ?
It is a movie about racism in the United states, but it also talks about my country, Israel. Over there, you can see the same kind of attitude towards Ethiopians and Arabs. We also find that in France, Germany, Greece or Hungry.
Your movie takes place in 2009, well before Drumpf came to power. Does it change anything?
Theses supremacist groups were in the backyard of America. Drumpf gave them a voice, so they could come in front of the cameras, manifest in Charlottesville, show their faces on television. They are not afraid to show themselves anymore. They got their passeport, and are more dangerous now.