AJFF Review: ‘Spielberg’ Celebrates Family Stories
ArtsAtlanta Jewish Film Festival

AJFF Review: ‘Spielberg’ Celebrates Family Stories

The documentary traces the brilliant career and dramatic evolution of the Jewish filmmaker.

An HBO documentary profiling the most commercially successful director in history, “Spielberg” is an entertaining walk through the ubiquitous filmmaker’s life, artistic origins and lengthy filmography.

The film features behind-the-scenes footage, film clips and Hollywood interviews, but even more impressive is how the documentary comes to embody so many of the director’s cinematic trademarks.

Steven Spielberg is as charismatic as any of his leads, and the film has great editing, shaping a documentary into Hollywood form, layered with well-placed scenes from Spielberg films of every decade to keep things from getting slow. The film features some of Hollywood’s biggest actors, from Daniel Day-Lewis and Daniel Craig to Richard Dreyfuss and Sally Field, but many of the most memorable interviews come from his family members.

Like the director, they’re as well-spoken as any industry veteran, and the film cuts cleverly between interviews and scenes, showcasing just how much his family’s story influences his work.

The process and stories behind “Schindler’s List,” however, still make for the most powerful part of the film.

This section showcases incredible behind-the-scenes shots and powerful commentary, made more personal by Spielberg’s stories of neighborhood anti-Semitism and internalized guilt in prior interviews.

The documentary places “Schindler’s List” as a turning point for Spielberg as an artist and as a Jew, laying its many messages out beautifully. Other chapters focusing on his more serious fare, such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Munich,” prove similarly riveting.

Highlights also include Spielberg’s early years, packed with visuals of a young, obsessive version of the director hanging out among friends who would also rise to meteoric heights. Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and more share their thoughts on the early Spielberg and, even better, stories of a generation coming of age artistically in Los Angeles.

“Spielberg” should please any fan of his work and serve as an effective greatest-hits compilation for anyone unfamiliar. Those who aren’t fans probably won’t come away changed, with the most critical takes coming from Spielberg himself, but the film still serves as a solid, well-edited documentary with interesting commentary on family, faith and filmmaking.

(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 29, 7 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Jan. 30, 3:20 p.m., Atlantic Station; Feb. 12, 7 p.m., Springs; Feb. 14, 3:10 p.m., Tara)

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