There is definitely more than one Spielberg making films in Hollywood.
Nancy Spielberg, keynote speaker at the kickoff event for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s annual campaign, made that very clear.
“I think people think Steve is an only child,” she said. “He is the only male child in the family. We are three sisters. I am the baby.”
Coming late to her filmmaking career, in large part because of a fear of being compared to her famous older brother, Spielberg could not resist the urge to bring a great story to the screen.
Her first production, Above and Beyond, is a documentary about a group of American pilots who had flown in World War II who came together as volunteers to help Israel form an air force in 1948.
The film, screened at the Sept. 18 kickoff event, provided an opportunity for these men who heroically but secretively helped the young country defend itself against the formidable Arab armies, to finally and publicly be recognized and honoured for their sacrifices.
In 2011, Spielberg read an obituary of Al Schwimmer, who had organized the group of pilots by recruiting friends. “It amazed me that this group of World War II veterans who survived the war would do this and I said this is my story. It grabbed me by my heartstrings… I wanted them to be honoured. I wanted them to have their moment to shine,” she said.
Spielberg has two more documentaries in the works. Who Will Write Our History? is the story of a small group of people in the Warsaw Ghetto who documented everything and buried the documents in milk cans and tin boxes so that somebody would find them and tell their stories. The other is called On the Map, about Israel’s championship Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s victory over the Soviet CKSA squad in 1977.
The campaign kickoff was chaired this year by the Dolansky family: parents Donna and Bernie, along with their daughters and spouses Shawna Dolansky and Grant Overland and Gillian and Neil Presner.
For the first time, the event featured a “double header” with an afternoon program geared to young families. Children’s entertainers Judy and David performed for a crowd of over 150 people, and the afternoon, organized by Gillian and Neil Presner, was deemed a huge success.
“It is necessary to attract the future of the community,” Neil said.
The evening event was attended by nearly 400 members of the community, including Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak.
Last year’s campaign raised $4.5 million, and while organizers haven’t set an exact goal for this year, they say they hope to exceed that amount.
Campaign chairs for the 2017 annual campaign, Michael Polowin and Sharon Appotive, both spoke of having been brought up in the Ottawa Jewish community and the many ways in which they and their families have benefited from its various services and organizations.
“When you donate to the annual campaign and when you volunteer your time, please remember you are supporting the entire community of Ottawa and Israel,” Appotive said.