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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

New documentary Spielberg spotlights the life of legendary director 

The directorsteps in front of the camera to hold forth on his life and silver-screen magic in a new feature-length documentary

A still from 'Spielberg', in which the director is quizzed by famed documentarian Susan Lacy. Courtesy HBO / OSN
A still from 'Spielberg', in which the director is quizzed by famed documentarian Susan Lacy. Courtesy HBO / OSN

Every time I start a new scene, I’m nervous. And when that verges on panic – I get great ideas.”

So says Steven Spielberg, the highest-grossing director of all time, with a worldwide box office of US$9.36 billion (Dh34.38bn) – and climbing. But behind his veneer of Hollywood royalty and his celebrated string of movies, there still lingers the soul of a wide-eyed boy with a Super 8 camera in his hand – as excited as he is frightened by all the possibilities.

From brilliant popcorn flicks such a Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), ET the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Jurassic Park (1993) to his gut-wrenching Best Picture Oscar winners Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), Spielberg’s love of story has touched most everyone alive today. We have grown up with the imprint of his fantastic visions in our minds and the enduring emotions of his superb tales in our hearts.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz was once counselled to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”, perhaps we have been remiss in not getting to really know the dreamer behind the lens – and let’s be honest, Spielberg has always been a shy man and reticent about blowing his own horn, fearful that talking about his “magic” may ruin it.

But that is all about to change with Spielberg, a two-and-a-half-hour HBO documentary to air this Sunday on OSN First HD Home of HBO, in which the acclaimed director will finally step in front of the camera to hold forth on his life and cinematic odyssey.

Those viewers who believe Spielberg was born with a scoop of royal jelly that made his rise to fame and fortune a cakewalk will soon be disavowed of this notion.

“I tried very hard to get into USC [University of Southern California] film school, and I just didn’t have the grades to get in,” he says, “and I realised that this was going to be what I was going to do. Or I was going to die trying.”

The woman who finally twisted his arm to speak up is famed documentarian Susan Lacy, who spent decades with PBS as the creator of the American Masters biography series, before jumping to HBO. During 17 interview sessions totalling more than 30 hours, she enjoyed free rein to ask Spielberg all the questions we have ever wondered about – with no strings attached.

“He in no way tried to steer this film; he did not see it until it was finished,” Lacy says. “We did not talk about what I was going to do and wasn’t going to do.

“I’m a very in-depth interviewer. We were still deeply in childhood after two hours. He’s very shy about interviews; he does very few. [It’s] quite an extraordinary experience to hear him really open up.”

Spielberg’s interviews were only the tip of Lacy’s iceberg of inquiry. Also appearing on screen are a veritable who’s who of Hollywood: J J Abrams, Christian Bale, Drew Barrymore, Cate Blanchett, Francis Ford Coppola, Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brian De Palma, Laura Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Dreyfuss, Ralph Fiennes, Harrison Ford, David Geffen, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Holly Hunter, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ben Kingsley, Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas, Liam Neeson, Martin Scorsese, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Zemeckis.

“You think of that young kid one day sneaking his way into a studio and manifesting his own destiny,” DiCaprio says. “It’s a pretty fantastic Hollywood story.”

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Spielberg holds little back here, with the exception of his family, where he remains guarded.

Now 70, he has five children ages 20 to 29 with his second wife, actress Kate Capshaw, 63, and a son, 32, from his first marriage to actress Amy Irving.

“[Capshaw] did not want to do an interview for the film; they are very private in terms of their family life,” Lacy explains. “I made the decision not to interview the children” – although his elderly parents do appear.

Born in Cincinnati to electrical engineer Arnold Spielberg and restaurateur/pianist Leah, his earliest home movie, made at the age of 12, chronicles a train wreck involving his toy trains. Dozens of Super 8 adventure films followed during his teenage years.

That boy frequently bubbled to the surface during the course of his year of interviews with Lacy.

“He would be enthusiastic like a kid talking about it because it was fun for him to remember it and he loves making movies,” she says. “If there’s a filmmaker that loves making movies, it’s Steven.”

His parents’ divorced when he was 19, which not only affected him and his three sisters deeply, but informed much of his life’s work.

Lacy’s film explores how Spielberg’s fractured family and a rocky relationship with his father contributed to the genesis of the poignant, heart-tugging movie ET, which centred on a boy and his two siblings being raised by a single mum – a common theme in many of his films.

“To hear him talk about the impact of his parents’ divorce, and that ET came out of a desire to fill the heart of a lonely child ... really was quite extraordinary,” Lacy says.

In Spielberg’s words: “All of my films come from the part of myself that I can’t really articulate.”

Spielberg has its premiere on October 8 at 11pm on OSN First HD Home of HBO