Steven Spielberg brings down the house with speech at Berlin Film Festival

Steven Spielberg, the 76-year-old director-producer-humanitarian, was honored at this year’s Berlin Film Festival with a lifetime achievement award. His most recent project, “The Fabelmans,” is currently in the running for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture (listing himself and frequent collaborators Tony Kushner and Kristie Macosko Krieger as producers), Best Director, Best Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Supporting Actor (Judd Hirsch), Best Original Screenplay (Kushner and, in a rare case, Spielberg himself), Best Original Score (John Williams), and Best Production Design (Rick Carter and Karen O’Hara). 

The theme of antisemitism, which runs through much of “The Fabelmans,” was clearly on Spielberg’s mind as he took the podium. “​​This honor has particular meaning for me because I’m a Jewish director,” the “Schindler’s List” and “Munich” director said. “I’d like to believe that this is a small moment in a much larger, ongoing effort of healing the broken places of history–what Jews call Tikkun Olam, the repairing and restoring of the world.”

He went on to discuss what is now called the USC Shoah Foundation, a one-of-a-kind archive that recorded testimonials from survivors of the Holocaust, which sprung from his work on “Schindler’s List.” The organization has radically changed how this history is taught, has produced a number of award-winning films, and has expanded to include witnesses of other genocides and atrocities.

“I established The Shoah Foundation because I’m convinced that what historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi wrote is true: The opposite of justice is not injustice. The opposite of justice is forgetting. Reconciliation is possible only when we remember what’s happened. Germany has long been an essential partner in the Shoah Foundation’s work. Private citizens and the German government and the Berlin Film Festival have joined us in gathering and interviewing witnesses, in introducing documentaries, in spreading educational materials, in helping us make our archives widely available in Germany,” he said.

He continued: “The German people have shown themselves willing to read their country’s history, to confront its lessons regarding antisemitism, bigotry, and xenophobia, harbingers of Holocaust. Other countries, including my own, can learn a lot from the courageous determination of the German people to act to prevent fascists from seizing power. A nation can be called just only if it refuses the convenient amnesia that tempts us all. After the 20th Century, maybe no nation should flatter or delude itself that it deserves to be called just. But we shouldn’t deny the possibility of justice. We shouldn’t stop pursuing it. That pursuit is our best hope for finding meaning in life. And that it begins with remembering.”

Also at the festival, he further tamped down any suggestions that the autobiographical “The Fabelmans” represented a final film. But he did say that “I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I have no idea,” though this is actually not too uncommon for him. Like Martin Scorsese, Spielberg typically has a few potential next projects he’s juggling before he locks in on one. (He even once stepped away from a film in post-production, “Ready Player One,” to quickly shoot the less effects-heavy “The Post.”)

Spielberg did make headlines, however, confirming that he is still developing Stanley Kubrick’s script of “Napoleon” as a seven-part miniseries for HBO. Kubrick studied the topic for years following the production of “2001: A Space Odyssey,”, but the project was ultimately abandoned when producers became worried about its finances. Some of the research was worked into his later film “Barry Lyndon.” Spielberg first announced an agreement with Kubrick’s estate in 2013, and in 2016 Cary Joji Fukunaga was attached to direct. Of course, Spielberg has adapted an unrealized Kubrick project before, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” in 2001.

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