Steven Spielberg has confessed that the coronavirus pandemic forced him to reckon with age and mortality, acknowledging that his fears are what drove him to make his multi-Oscar-nominated film “The Fabelmans.”
“The fear I felt about the pandemic gave me the courage to tell my personal story,” Spielberg said during a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival on Tuesday.
The director also confirmed that he’s working on a seven-part limited series for HBO based on Stanley Kubrick’s unmade feature film “Napoleon,” rumors of which first began floating around back in 2016 with director Cary Fukunaga attached.
Spielberg, who has not participated in many press events this awards season, will receive the festival’s honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement Tuesday night before a screening of his semi-autobiographical look at growing up as a film-obsessed teenager. “The Fabelmans” is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including in the directing, writing and best picture categories.
Describing the honor as “a tremendous high point in my life,” Spielberg mused on how the Berlinale laurels forced the famously workaholic filmmaker to switch gears.
“The honor about a lifetime achievement award is just simply that it forces you to do something I don’t often do: it forces me to reflect,” he said. “Reflecting means I’m not moving forward. For me, when I reflect, it means I’m spending too much time in neutral, just remembering.
“That’s in a sense what a lifetime achievement award does: It sets you back into the past — whether you want to go there or not,” he added.
Speaking on the six-year anniversary of his mother’s death, Spielberg spoke about the influence she had over his latest feature, sharing how she often quipped to him: “I’ve given you so much good material. When are you going to use that material?”
Using that material did not come easy, said the director, calling “The Fabelmans” the “most emotional” film he’s made in his long and celebrated career, because it forced him to tap into the trauma he felt when his parents divorced. “Even recreating those scenes, it was very hard to relive it,” he said.
If the pandemic forced him to confront those buried traumas, it also gave him “time to breathe,” he said, prompting him to ask the question: “If there was one movie I hadn’t made yet that I would now have time to make, what would that be?
“The answer has always been with me all my life. I always wanted to tell the story about my mother and my father, my sisters, and this amazing struggle between art and family,” he continued. “It’s come out in all my films. All my films really are personal, and many of them are about family. But nothing that is so specific to my experiences as ‘The Fabelmans.’”
During next month’s Academy Award ceremony, Spielberg will be looking to add to three previous Oscars, winning twice for directing (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List”) and once for best picture (“Schindler’s List”). Universal Pictures Germany will release “The Fabelmans” in German theaters in March.
Along with his lifetime achievement award, the Berlinale is celebrating Spielberg’s long and illustrious career with an homage featuring some of the Hollywood icon’s greatest hits, including “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Munich” and Academy Award winners “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.”
Speaking on Tuesday, the prolific filmmaker said he’s “been on a bullet train making film after film after film for so many decades,” sharing how be began to shoot “The Fabelmans” before “West Side Story” was even released in theaters.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I have no idea,” he admitted. “And it’s kind of a nice feeling, and it’s also a horrible feeling. It’s nice that I can actually have control of my life again and make my own choices. But I need to work and I love to work. That’s the biggest question I’m going to have for the rest of the year, trying to figure this out.”