Documentary filmmaker and philanthropist Nancy Spielberg will be in Ottawa, September 18, to speak at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Annual Campaign Kickoff. She recently spoke with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin about growing up with older brother Steven Spielberg, and about her film, “Above and Beyond.”
She’s the younger sister of one of Hollywood’s most important movie directors, but Nancy Spielberg has significant credentials of her own in the documentary film industry.
Spielberg was a consultant for the Academy Award winning documentary, “Chernobyl Heart,” and was executive producer for the TV documentary series, “Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals.”
After “Elusive Justice,” Spielberg was considering her next project when she received an email from a stranger that contained the stories of what would become her acclaimed 2014 documentary, “Above and Beyond.”
“Above and Beyond” tells the virtually unknown tale of a group of American Second World War pilots who volunteered to fight for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.
Spielberg will be the keynote speaker at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Annual Campaign Kickoff, Sunday, September 18, 7 pm, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. She plans to discuss her filmmaking, philanthropy, the evolution of her Jewish identity, and what it was like growing up with Steven Spielberg, her iconic brother.
A dessert reception and optional screening of “Above and Beyond” will follow Spielberg’s keynote address.
Spielberg said she fell “head over heels” when she first read the stories of the American pilots who fought for Israel.
“I really wanted to honour these guys while they were still alive,” she said. “That was a critical part because we’re losing all of our [Holocaust] survivors and all of our Second World War vets, so we’re scurrying to grab their stories because if we don’t, they’re gone. From there, I just decided that I would put all my energy, time and effort into this and it just took off.”
Spielberg said she also made the film to showcase Jewish resistance and tell a story in which Jews were heroes instead of victims, hoping people would emerge from the theatre with “a sense of pride.”
While Spielberg is proud of the film – which has been met with widespread acclaim from critics and film festival attendees – she’s disappointed that it didn’t find an audience in Europe.
“The European market shut me out,” she said, noting it was impossible “to sell a film about Jews and Israel during Operation Protective Edge when anti-Israel sentiment was really high.”
She said her brother Steven – whom she affectionately refers to as “Stevie” – is one of the film’s biggest fans.
Nancy Spielberg reminisced about growing up with Steven in Arizona, where he would often recruit her and her two sisters to operate the cameras and the lighting and occasionally act in his childhood film projects of family camping and fishing trips. In 1964, when 17-year-old Steven made “Firelight,” a low budget science fiction movie, she played one of the leading roles.
While many Jews in Hollywood keep relatively silent about Judaism, the Spielbergs have been an exception, often creating films that shine a light on their heritage. Spielberg attributes this to their upbringing.
“We grew up in a very anti-Semitic community, so … that made us realize something was different about us. We grew up to embrace those differences and find a place where we felt comfortable,” Spielberg said.
Since its release two years ago, “Above and Beyond” has become required viewing for all Israeli air force personnel, and the film continues to be shown at Jewish community events throughout North America. Spielberg plans to develop a feature film based on the documentary in the coming years.
The Annual Campaign Kickoff – on Sunday, September 18 – has adopted a new format this year with two events: a family concert featuring Judy and David at 3 pm in the Ottawa Jewish Community School gym, and the evening event with Spielberg at 7 pm. Tickets for the family concert are $10 per household.
Tickets for the evening event are $10 (individual) or $20 (household) and are available at www.jewishottawa.com.
For more information, contact Rena Garshowitz at 613-798-4696, ext. 241 or email@example.com.