×

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.

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson waits

    Marianne Williamson Attends Project Angel Food Gala Honoring Jamie Lee Curtis

    Author, activist and Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has a personal connection to Project Angel Food — and not just because she founded the charity 30 years ago. At Saturday night’s anniversary gala at the organization’s Hollywood headquarters, she explained the link between the nonprofit and her daughter, India Emma: “I always know how old [...]

  • 71st Emmys Governors Ball

    Why the Television Academy Plans to Donate Furnishings From the 71st Emmys Governors Ball

    The Emmys’ official after party is set to impress — and to leave a permanent impression. At the annual press preview of the 71st Emmys Governors Ball, the Television Academy announced a partnership with Living Spaces, Habitat for Humanity and the Hollywood Community Housing Project that will provide more than 80 custom sofas, chairs and [...]

  • Gaby Hoffmann, Albert Cheng, Alexandra Billings,

    'Transparent' Team Reflects on Series Finale Without Jeffrey Tambor

    Friday night’s premiere of the series finale of “Transparent” at L.A. Live’s Regal theater felt like a family reunion for the Pfefferman clan. Matriarch Judith Light embraced each one of her TV children (Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass) and guest stars from previous seasons (Cherry Jones, Melora Hardin, Bradley Whitford) who also turned [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content