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Steven Spielberg Returns To War, And Settles Back Into Director’s Chair

A sit-down with the legendary director-producer who has lately spent most of his time back behind the camera. Spielberg says he has more free time now that his kids have left him a virtual empty nester. His latest release is War Horse, an epic World War I

Steven Spielberg at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International (Gerald Geronimo)
Steven Spielberg at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International (Gerald Geronimo)
Lorenzo Soria

It was Spielberg v. Spielberg. For three years, ever since the last Indiana Jones release, Steven Spielberg was kept extra busy wearing his "studio boss' hat, managing the split between his DreamWorks studio and Paramount, securing the finance capital coming in from India and inking a distribution deal with Disney. He also happened to produce a basketful of new movies (Transformers III , Super 8 and Cowboys and Aliens ), as well as television series.

But now the maker of E.T., Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan is back where he is both most comfortable, and happiest: the director's chair.

Spielberg, 65, has two big movies out this winter: Tintin, inspired by the legendary Hergé comic strip, and War Horse, a movie based on the 1982 Michael Morpurgo bestseller of the same name. It is the story of special horse taken from the splendid English fields of Devon to the bloody trenches of World War I to help fight for the British cavalry. The horse winds up captured by the Germans, but along the way manages to use both his intelligence and kindness to change whomever he comes in contact with.

That it is left to an animal to bring some measure of humanity to war is the paradox that moved Spielberg when he read the book, and later saw the story played out in a London theater. Indeed he was working with Peter Jackson in post-production of Tintin when he saw the World War I-era play, and knew right away it would be his next film. And the legendary director didn't stop there: as soon as he finished War Horse, he launched into a project that has been on the shelf for years: Lincoln, a depiction of the final months in the life of Abraham Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of the U.S. president. A late 2012 release is expected.

During a pause in shooting for Lincoln, we caught up with the man who may be the most successful movie director of all time, to find out about his latest effort to hit the big screen, as War Horse looks positioned for Oscar nominations with a cast that includes Emily Watson, Peter Mullan and Jeremy Irvine.

LA STAMPA: Three films in one year. What's happening? Do you feel you have to make up for lost time, or is the fear of no longer having the time to do everything?
SPIELBERG: No, it's only a coincidence. For me, my children always came before my work, but now they're older, out of seven, six are out of the house, and that leaves me with much more time at my disposal. This is also just a period where I've wound up with great screenplays in my hands, and so I continue to work and to have that desire within me. Sure, I do other things, but my great passion remains directing."


What was it about this story set 100 years ago that felt relevant?
It's a film that could have been made in 1940 or 1960. But what struck me is the story of an animal able to magically connect with people. These are people who don't get along, who arrive from different places and histories, who are on opposing sides of the front line of war; and yet this horse manages to unite a father and a son, German soldiers and British soldiers.


After Saving Private Ryan, why something now from World War I?
I was interested in depicting a world at war before the great technological revolution, when horses were companions to the soldiers in the trenches, and provided real support to the troops. After 1918, these animals returned to graze in the fields. And maybe that's where they should have always stayed. The truth is that I don't consider this a war film. In fact, it's clearly an anti-war film. And one of hope."

This is also a film that recalls the David Lean classics or Gone With The Wind.
It's not that I set out to make a film classic -- and what does that really mean anyway? But it is true that I wanted the film have scope. I was able to shoot in some of the most breathtaking locations in England. I wanted the film to breathe, and see that the countryside became one of the protagonists. And so maybe in this way, there is a nod to classics like those of Akira Kurosawa or Howard Hawks or John Ford.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Gerald Geronimo

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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