At ‘The Fabelmans’ premiere, Steven Spielberg discusses how his Jewish identity is portrayed in the autobiographical film – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Toronto (JTA) – After a career with highlights like “Schindler’s List” and “Munich,” it would be hard to argue with what Steven Spielberg’s “most Jewish” film has been. But now it is clear that which is the most personal film of the famous director.

On Saturday night, Spielberg, in a post-screening Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival, screened his upcoming semi-autobiographical film, “The Fableman,” about his Jewish upbringing and his early formative years as an aspiring filmmaker. where its debut earned two. -Minute Standing Ovation and Later Oscar Buzz at Early Critic Reviews. Spielberg made no effort to hide the fact that the story is based on his life.

“It’s not complicated,” he said. “It’s something, obviously, that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

Festival CEO Cameron Bailey, the moderator of the Q&A, said that Spielberg grew up in a Jewish family “in a mostly non-Jewish environment”. He asked the director about his “growing association with your Jewish identity” throughout his career, and what it was like to “weave it into film”. Jewish audiences had been highly anticipating how Spielberg’s Jewishness would be incorporated into the film since the production was officially announced last year. The three-time Oscar winner recently co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, right after finishing his work on the remake of “West Side Story.”

“I love the way it’s easy going in this movie. It’s a very deep part of Steven’s identity and Fableman’s identity,” Kushner said in conversation. “But this is a film that is about Jewish people, not wholly or specifically about Judaism or anti-Semitism or anything else. So it’s not a problem, it’s who they are. “

The film, which follows protagonist Sammy Fabelman as he falls in love with filmmaking from childhood through high school, quickly establishes the family’s Jewishness. As the film begins, the Fabelman family (whose surname sounds more like a Jewish word drama on the idea of ​​fables, or storytelling) is based in New Jersey, and Sammy notes that he is aware of the lack of Christmas lights. Which house is his? The family sings the Hanukkah blessing at one point, and later has a Shabbat dinner with challah, kugel, and brisket at the table.

The family then relocates to Arizona and then to Northern California, where it becomes clear that there are very few other Jews around. In Phoenix, they visit Sammy’s old-world immigrant great uncle (Judd Hirsch), who tells tales of dealing with “Jew-haters” while he was at the circus, before warning Sammy that How would they choose a day? His family and his art. These words turn out to be prophetic at a crucial moment later in the film.

Hirsch, who is Jewish, said in the Q&A that when he asked Spielberg about the “real man” his character was based on, the director replied that he “never understood a word he said. ” The director said this was due to the “coarse accent” of an Eastern European relative.

In the California part of the story, when he is a high school senior, Sammy is bullied by anti-Semitic jock classmates who refer to him as “the bagelman”. Sammy later dates a Christian girlfriend who tries to bring him into Jesus.

Spielberg said that the anti-Semitic threats he faced were “only a small aspect of my life … It’s not a governing force of any sort in my life. But I was taken aback by being an outsider in the beginning.” Was made very aware about it.” He said it was only two children who committed the bullying and he does not blame the school for the incidents.

“I think in proportion to the film, it’s an aspect of his experience in that moment,” Kushner said of that scene. “It’s part of his arc, Sammy’s arc, towards reclaiming the film and exploring the things that the film can do.”

The film’s overarching story, which hits US theaters in November, also stays true to Spielberg’s description of his own life story. He was born in Cincinnati shortly after World War II, to a father who was a pioneering computing engineer and a mother who played the piano. Arnold Spielberg came from a family of Orthodox Jews; Steven attended Hebrew school as a child and had a bar mitzvah in Arizona. The family actually moved from New Jersey to Arizona to California, she actually had three younger sisters, and her parents actually split in the mid-1960s. As Spielberg grew in his filmmaking, divorce, absent parenthood and strained parent-child relationships emerged as major themes in many of his films.

From left: Steven Spielberg, Matteo Zorina Francis-Deford, Paul Dano, Michelle Williams and Judd Hirsch at the “The Fablemans” premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 10. (Michael Lokisano/Getty Images)

Spielberg made amateur 8mm films as a child, before moving to Hollywood in the late 1960s and beginning his career as one of the most successful directors in history.

The film starred Paul Dano and Michelle Williams as Sammy’s parents, neither of whom are Jewish. Seth Rogen — who famously praised Spielberg as a character in his 2007 film “Knocked Up,” a film about “Jews kicking ass” from “Munich” — is the father’s best friend. Which plays a big role in the marital conflicts of the family.

Spielberg and Kushner had discussed the director’s early life and a project about it for years. early 2005, while they were working on “Munich,” Kushner said. (Spielberg claimed in the Q&A that he began speaking about it in 2012 while working on “Lincoln.”)

“Tony served as a therapist,” Spielberg said of his writing process. “I was his patient, and we talked, and I talked for a long time, and Tony fed me and helped me through it. But when COVID hit… we all had a lot of time , and we all had a lot of fear. And I don’t think anyone knew very well what the state of the art and the state of life would be in March or April of 2020, even a year later. And me Guess that’s the sense I realized… if I was going to leave anything behind, what is the thing that I really need to sort out and unpack? My mom, my dad, and my sisters. … it was now or never, but it almost felt like it.”

But don’t take this movie as a sign that Spielberg, 75, is slowing down, he said.

“It’s not because I’ve decided to retire and it’s my swan song,” Spielberg said.

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