By Hillary Latos
As the youngest sister of director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Ann Spielberg film making and philanthropy clearly runs in the gene pool. Originally hailing from Camden, NJ this close knit family moved out to Arizona as children, which is where they got their start in the industry. Resident caught up with this dynamic philanthropist and documentary film maker about her latest film project and what it was like growing up as a Spielberg.
Resident: Let’s get right into it…How did you get into film?
Nancy Spielberg: We started in Arizona. We used to camp a lot and my brother took home movies and started to film, and we were his crew; we were acting and special effects. When he was directing me, I listened to him because we all listened to him! He ran the house! He used to scare us with crazy stories and toy skeletons, which he used to dress up in costumes. Starting when I was 8 years old, I became a storyteller and would also illustrate my stories based on real life and adding some zest to it. Eventually, when I moved to NY to be with my husband, I was taking writing lessons but I used my married name, because my brother was starting to become famous and I wanted a fair shake.
Resident: Tell us about your philanthropy endeavors.
Nancy Spielberg: My husband is very involved with charitable work and we work with quite a few charities. One close to my heart is Children of Chernobyl and it was established soon after the nuclear disaster. Children’s bodies absorb radiation quicker than adults because their thyroids read the isotopes as iodine. I had lost a nephew to leukemia so this really affected me and we organized an office here. My brother is also involved, but I’m the worker bee. We work every year and bring in an array of celebrities to our events and produce a gala each year, where celerities use their name to raise money and awareness for the sick children. We also launched other charities like Project Sunshine that brings recreational and social programs to hospitalized children or those with medical challenges. All the while I’ve been involved in the nonprofit world, I’ve kept a hand in my writing.
Resident: What types of film projects are you producing?
Nancy Spielberg: I was very careful what I got involved in, it had to resonate with me; I was handed so many projects. One of the projects I took on was Chernobyl Heart, which was an HBO short documentary and won an Oscar in 2004 for the Best Documentary Short Subject Award.
My latest project is Above and Beyond, which is about American World War II pilots who came back as decorated heroes for bravery after the war and volunteered to fight for Israel in the War of Independence. They risked everything and got involved in illegal smuggling operations bringing in planes, weapons, and even recruiting their friends who were pilots to go to Palestine in 1948. Israel was just voted into statehood, but was attacked by all the surrounding armies who were very well equipped. Israel had no guns or fighter planes or anything to fight with. These guys saw the survivors immigrating to Israel and saw the writing on the wall, their holocaust was about to happen at the birth of the new country. Though they rose to the occasion, many were indicted because there was an embargo against anyone going there to bring material over and the consequence would be that they would lose their American citizenship and possibly face jail time. We called them the High Flying Chutzpahs because they are, they are not Zionists though mainly Jewish with about 20% who were not Jewish. One of them was the actor Paul Reuben’s father and he speaks on film with his mother. Most of these guys are now 95, but still recount their stories in great detail from the days they were 26 and when they tell the story there’s a twinkle in their eyes and its very powerful.
Currently we are opening in theaters January 30th in NYC and we are working on distribution beyond the theatrical.
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