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Even After 25 Years, Schindler’s List Retains Its Relevance And Is A Bone Chilling Reminder Of The Past

Abhishek Srivastava - 79 weeks ago

Schindler’s List was born as a result of a bargain deal with Paramount Films. Even after the project was greenlighted, the amount of time Spielberg took to actually shoot the film scared the producers so much that they started considering it as an unviable project.

Paramount believed that the $23 million budget for a B/W film was too much of a risk. To nullify their projected losses, they offered a deal to the filmmaker - make a summer movie first, post which he would be allowed to steer his passion project in whichever direction he felt like. Spielberg’s consent to the deal led to the release of Jurrasic Park in summer of 1993 while Schindler’s List could manage a theatrical release only in December of the same year. In an interview Spielberg had admitted that the primary purpose behind making the film was education about the Holocaust. “The Holocaust had been treated as just a footnote in so many text books or not mentioned at all. Millions knew little if anything about it. Others tried to deny it happened at all.”

(Steven Spielberg with the cast of the film during the shoot of Schindler’s List in Krakow, Poland (Image courtesy - MovieStillsDB)

The seeds for the film were sown as early as 1982 when Sidney Sheinberg (ex-president of Universal Studios) handed over Spielberg a copy of Thomas Keneally’s book. After necessary rights were procured for the book’s cinematic adaptation, it took more than a decade for the project to reach fruition as the director was scared of the subject matter he was to handle. But few are aware that even before the Sid-Steven meeting transpired, veteran director Billy Wilder was extremely keen on making a film on Keneally’s book which was to be his final film. 

The film deals with the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of close to 1200 Jews, mainly Polish, by giving them employment in his own factories. Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, was an astute and shrewd businessman who always kept profit at the altar. Schindler’s relationship with his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Sterk, forms the core of the film.

It’s ironical that Australian novelist Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s Ark, on which the film was based, won a Booker in the category of fiction and not non-fiction. Spielberg in his quest to make a film which was true to the book and to the atrocities that the Jews faced at the hands of their Nazis perpetrators, interviewed survivors of the Holocaust. The director went to Poland and spent time with the local people and Jews who returned back to Poland after the great war. In an interview that the director gave to the Shoah Foundation he admitted that he knew Schindler’s List from the novel but he wanted to know more about the events through its survivors and historical landmarks. “I always knew these things happened, but it’s different when you actually see the sign Pomorska Street, and you know all the horrible things that happened on the Pomorska street and there’s Schindler’s actual apartment and there’s Amon Goeth’s actual villa where he stayed.”

It’s also interesting to know about the chain of events that led to the association between Spielberg and Branko Lustig, one of the producers of Schindler’s List. According to the director, it was Lustig who sought him out. When Lustig met him for the first time, he rolled up his sleeves, which had a tattooed number from Auschwitz, and said to the maker that ‘here are my credentials’. Lustig also informed him that he had been pursuing him for a long time to get an audience with the filmmaker. Lustig was candid enough to inform him that he was interested in producing the film as he was aware of the stories of the people who had to go through the Holocaust. Branko Lustig remains the only person from Croatia who has two Oscars in his kitty – apart from Schindler’s List, later he also won an Oscar for Gladiator

(Steven Spielberg with the ‘Red girl’ on the sets of Schindler’s List (Image courtesy - MovieStillsDB)

The trauma involved with the atrocities committed on Jews was so overpowering that Spielberg avoided watching his own film for many years. The first time he saw the film was during the restoration process of its Blue Ray DVD release but again it was watched on a mute mode. It was only during the Tribeca Film Festival this year that the director for the first time watched the film along with the audiences during its 25th anniversary. At the screening, he also revealed that he had many moments during the film when he had emotional breakdown. During such moments he often resorted to old episodes of Saturday Night Live. Another escape route for him was his close buddy Robin Williams. “Robin knew what I was going through and once a week, and he would call me on schedule and would do a 15-minutes stand up on the phone. I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much,” Spielberg had reminisced at the screening. It was towards the end of the shooting that Spielberg came with the idea of the climax scene that featured the real surviving Schindler’s Jews. According to him it was more of way to remind cinegoers that what they were seeing on the screen was something that actually happened in real life. 

(Steven Spielberg explaining a scene to Liam Neeson during the shoot of Schindler’s List (Image courtesy - MovieStillsDB)

It was also the first time that Spielberg won an Academy awards for direction after having been nominated earlier in 1978 for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Schindler’s List remains an epoch film in the history of film making and the regular mentions it finds among top 100 films on various platforms till today only reiterates the power it still wields over cinegoers.  

Tags

Schindler's List / Steven Spielberg / Liam Neeson / Paramount / Thomas Keneally / Ben Kingsley / Krakow / Auschwitz

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