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Steven Spielberg honored for lifetime achievement at Berlinale

Considered one of the most successful directors of all time, Spielberg is being celebrated at the Berlin film festival

Deutsche Welle Published 20.02.23, 08:43 PM
Legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Deutsche Welle

"I dream for a living." The Steven Spielberg quote appears next to a large black-and-white picture of him smiling on the website of his production company, Amblin.

Judging from the career of the 76-year-old American film director, producer and screenwriter, he appears to be living his dream too. And he's taken generations of film fans along for the ride.


On Tuesday, the 2023 Berlinale film festival in the German capital is honoring the Hollywood director for a filmmaking career that has spanned more than half a century and included hits such as "Jaws," the Indiana Jones trilogy and, more recently, a cinema version of the classic American musical "West Side Story."

Spielberg will receive the Honorary Golden Bear for his body of work, an award that pays tribute to major cinematic figures. The festival will also screen his most recent film, "The Fabelmans," a semi-autobiographical drama, alongside other older landmark works such as "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."

Spielberg's big-screen life story

Born on December 18, 1946, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Steven Allen Spielberg moved several times while growing up, spending part of his youth in Arizona and most of his working life in the mecca of moviemaking, California.

Given his Orthodox Jewish heritage, he grew up listening to stories of how some of his ancestors had perished in the Holocaust. A victim of antisemitic attacks at school, the bullying made him "feel ashamed of being Jewish," he later admitted. Decades later, his catharsis came in directing the harrowing Holocaust film "Schindler's List," which would earn him his first Academy Award for best director.

Joining the Boy Scouts aged 12, and wanting to obtain a photography merit badge, he had used his father's 8 mm movie camera and submitted a nine-minute film titled "The Last Gunfight." There was no stopping the amateur filmmaker thereafter, who has cited 1962's "Lawrence of Arabia" as "the film that set me on my journey."

That journey began with him becoming one of the youngest television directors for Universal in the late 1960s, with his first made-for-TV film entitled "Duel" in 1971 receiving generally positive reviews.

In 1974, Spielberg made his debut in a theatrical film, "The Sugarland Express," based on a true story about a married couple on the run and desperate to regain custody of their baby from state-mandated foster parents.

It would also mark the start of a decades-long collaboration with prolific composer John Williams, who composed the scores for all but five of Spielberg's films.

Evoking various emotions

It would be a mechanical shark that sometimes failed to function that would seal his reputation as a filmmaker who could draw the crowds and rake in the dollars — breaking box office records at the time.

1975's "Jaws" is now considered the first-ever summer blockbuster. The sight of that dorsal fin swiftly slicing through the waters accompanied by John Williams' ominous two-note "shark theme," signaling impending danger, remains spine-tingling to this day.

There was no stopping Spielberg thereafter. His films — often featuring children or adults from fractured middle-class families or ordinary people doing extraordinary things — evoke a gamut of emotions.

He stoked our primal fears with "Jaws" or "War of the Worlds" (2005); brought out our inner child through "E.T." (1982) and "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011); made us consider worlds beyond ours in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), kept us riveted by the derring-do of his famed archaeologist Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) or rooting for journalists unearthing uncomfortable truths in "The Post" (2017). We watched agog as long-extinct predators were resurrected and roamed the earth again in " Jurassic Park " (1993), and in horror at the violence of war in "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), which earned him his second Academy Award for best director.

And most recently, he offered a fictionalized version of his youth and first years as a filmmaker in "The Fabelmans" (2022), which is up for seven Oscars at the upcoming Academy Awards, including best picture.

One of Hollywood's top producers

These are but a selection of the films he has directed. The mind boggles at everything else he's produced or written, giving the impression he's covered every genre in the filmmaking book.

Through his production house Amblin Entertainment, which he founded in 1981, he produced hits like "Gremlins," the "Back to the Future" trilogy, "Who framed Roger Rabbit," the "Men in Black" series or "Flags of Our Fathers."

Then with Dreamworks SKG, which he formed in 1994 with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, we were treated to groundbreaking animated films such as "Antz" (1998) and the wildly successful "Shrek" franchise. They sold their company to Viacom in 2005 for $1.6 billion.

A fifth Indiana Jones film, "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," is slated to be released in June 2023. It is however the first film in the series that wasn't directed by Spielberg, who serves as an executive producer on the project alongside George Lucas.

Spielberg has also entered the realm of streaming services; in June 2021, his company Amblin Partners signed a deal with Netflix to produce multiple films a year for the streaming giant.

A journey through genres

Having covered almost all genres from action-adventure, sci-fi fantasy, horror, historical drama, animation and musicals, Spielberg was asked during an interview with Yahoo in late 2021 if there's any genre he'd like to tackle next.

"I was asked that question over the last 40 years of my career, if not longer, and I always said a musical was the one thing I haven't done," replied the director, alluding to his direction of "West Side Story," which was released around the same time as the interview.

"The thing I neglected to say, which I've never done, and the one genre that I haven't really tackled yet, is the Western. So, who knows, maybe I'll be putting on spurs someday, who knows?" he added.

While it isn't known if audiences may one day see a Spielberg Western, what's certain is that the director's acclaimed body of work will only keep expanding in the years to come.

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