When Steven Spielberg’s career is complete, Schindler’s List will loom large in his filmography. It was the first film to win him Best Director, it was a commercial hit, and it made people understand the Holocaust in a way they may not have understood it before. With the film being re-released into theaters for its 25th anniversary, Spielberg sat down for a rare interview on a past movie and spoke to NBC Nightly News about the process of making Schindler’s List.
One of the surprising things in the interview is that Spielberg says he didn’t expect the movie to be a hit. Perhaps that’s understandable in some regard. It’s a 3 hour and 16 minute black-and-white movie about the Holocaust, and that has never translated to box office success. And yet I think Spielberg approached the film with a commercial eye, not trying to soften the Holocaust, but rather using his pedigree combined with a simple narrative (the transformation of Oskar Schindler from cold-hearted industrialist to savior of over 1,000 Jews) to make something far more accessible about the Holocaust than something like the 9.5-hour documentary Shoah.
Spielberg also notes that what made him ready for the film wasn’t his mass appeal blockbusters, and if anything, he notes he wasn’t ready back when he was making Indiana Jones, Jaws, and E.T. He says that the films that made him ready to do Schindler’s List was The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun.
The film was also made with a lot of input of the Schindler Jews and trying to make it as honest as possible. The input of one survivor eventually led to the formation of the USC Shoah Foundation, which chronicles the stories of Holocaust survivors and has extended the work of Schindler’s List far beyond the movie.
I highly encourage you to watch this whole video because Spielberg rarely looks back at his own movies and so the insight here is invaluable.
Schindler’s List is currently in theaters. Please go seek it out if you haven’t already.