Filmmaker Irving Saraf dies at 80

Won Oscar, Emmy for documentaries

Irving Saraf, who won an Oscar and an Emmy for documentaries, died Wednesday at home in San Francisco after succumbing to ALS. He was 80.

Saraf helped start the Special Projects department at San Francisco public television station KQED and helped Saul Zaentz form Fantasy Films. With his wife Allie Light, he made the Academy Award-winning film “In The Shadow of the Stars” and the Emmy-winning “Dialogues With Mad Women.”

Saraf was also the father of producer Peter Saraf of Big Beach Pictures.

He was the 10th employee hired at the public TV station KQED, launched in 1954, and made numerous films documenting the times, including “Take This Hammer,” about James Baldwin; “From Protest to Resistance,” about the political activists Mario Savio, Stokley Carmichael and David Harris; and “Losing Just the Same” about an African-American family in Oakland.

In 1971, Zaentz asked him to help start Fantasy Films, where he helped make “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest,” “Amadeus” and the original animated “Lord of the Rings.” He helped build the Saul Zaentz Film Center post-production facility in Berkeley.

In 1981, along with his second wife, Allie Light, he began making films under the Light/Saraf banner including “Visions of Paradise,” “Mitsuye and Nellie,” “In The Shadow of the Stars”and “Dialogues With Mad Women.” They made 17 movies together and were working on a film about each other’s lives at the time of his death.

Ignatz Szcharfertz was born in Lodz, Poland. He and his family escaped the Nazis in 1939, finding refuge in Italy, Malta and Egypt before settling in Palestine, where he was one of the first citizens of the nation of Israel. He served in the Israeli Army as a lieutenant and changed his last name to Saraf.

In 1952, he emigrated to the U.S. to attend San Francisco State U. and took Irving as his new first name. He transferred to UCLA and graduated with a cinema degree. For 18 years he was an adjunct professor of film at San Francisco State U.

Saraf is survived by his wife of 38 years, Allie Light; three children from his first marriage: Michal Saraf, Ilana Saraf and Peter Saraf; three adopted children from his marriage to Allie: Alexis Seymour, Charles Hilder III and Julia Hilder; eight grandchildren; and his sister.

Donations may be made to Project ALS. A memorial will be planned in the near future.

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