From left: Siblings Anne, Sue, Nancy and Steven Spielberg, and lead actors Michelle Williams and Paul Dano at the premiere for “The Fabelmans,” Nov. 6, 2022. Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.
From left: Siblings Anne, Sue, Nancy and Steven Spielberg, and lead actors Michelle Williams and Paul Dano at the premiere for “The Fabelmans,” Nov. 6, 2022. Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.

Nancy Spielberg: ‘We have to get people back into the theater’

The award-winning producer and younger sister of Steven Spielberg told JNS that it’s important to tell Jewish stories of trauma to counter rising antisemitism.

When Israeli filmmaker Tal Inbar approached Nancy Spielberg with her documentary “Closed Circuit,” about a deadly terrorist shooting at a Tel Aviv cafe in June 2016, Nancy Spielberg knew that she had to produce it.

“I just came away thinking, what if that happened to me?” she told JNS.

Spielberg, 66, one of Steven Spielberg’s younger sisters (he has three) and a distinguished filmmaker in her own right, was living in Tel Aviv at the time of the attack.

She presented the documentary to an audience of about 100 at Landmark Theatres in Glenview, Ill., on May 4. The day beforehand, she spoke at a screening of the documentary at a conference of the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.

Consul general of Israel to the Midwest Yinam Cohen attended the Glenview viewing and told JNS that the documentary is probably the most realistic portrayal of a terrorist attack he has ever seen. “You sense the fear and panic and trauma that comes during the aftermath,” he said.

Spielberg told JNS that telling Jewish stories on film is particularly important amid rising antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred in the United States and throughout the world.

“It is important for us as Americans to understand what it is like for Israelis, who are survivors of these kinds of terrorist attacks,” she said.

Spielberg admires what she describes as the Israeli spirit that savors life and makes the most of it, knowing full well that one faces danger on a daily basis. In fact, she thinks, Israelis are so good at carrying on in trying times that non-Jews might mistake that spirit of resilience and overlook the trauma that Israelis and U.S. Jews regularly face.

“We, as American Jews, need to be recognized as a minority. We do our best to move forward, making it seem like we don’t need help, but in reality, we do,” she said. “When it comes to rising antisemitism, we must raise awareness.”

Consul general of Israel to the Midwest Yinam Cohen with Cindy Stern, executive director of Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, in Glenview, Ill., on May 4, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Consul General’s Office.

‘A very creative time’

In that vein, Spielberg’s latest film is an eponymous 2023 documentary about Jewish photographer Roman Vishniac. From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac documented and raised funds for poor Eastern European Jewish communities, which he photographed on assignment for the American Joint Distribution Committee. His photographs testify about communities that would be wiped out several years later.

Spielberg, the executive producer of the documentary, expects that it will soon be shown as part of the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival. “Vishniac” premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

In other industry news, she told JNS that the pandemic was a mixed bag for the film industry. “The pandemic itself was very good for writers. It came to be a very creative time. But at the same time, it made filmmaking impossible,” said Spielberg.

She found it difficult to film the Vishnian documentary under such circumstances and told JNS that her brother, 76, experienced the same with his coming-of-age drama “The Fabelmans,” loosely based on his adolescence and early years as a filmmaker.

Spielberg added that the rise in use of streaming services prompted by the pandemic is not an adequate substitute for the magic of seeing movies in a theater.

“Thankfully, it looks like people are relaxing now,” she said. “We have to get people back into the theater. Watching a film in an actual theater with other people is an experience that just does not happen when streaming.”

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