Hollywood's child prodigy: Berlinale honors Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg's career begins with a train crash on a big screen.

Hollywood's child prodigy: Berlinale honors Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg's career begins with a train crash on a big screen. As a child he sees the spectacular scene in the film "The Greatest Show on Earth". When the images came back to him as a twelve-year-old while playing, he had to let his electric locomotives run into each other. The trains break down, his father threatens to take them away. But Spielberg wants to experience the scene again and again. So he films the crash with his father's camera. It was Spielberg's first film - and the beginning of a passion that took him to the top of Hollywood.

When the Berlinale honors the 76-year-old with the Honorary Golden Bear for his life's work on Tuesday evening (February 21), it will also be about the boy with the toy trains. Spielberg has processed the experience in his latest film. "The Fabelmans", which will be released in German cinemas in March, is to be shown at the festival in the presence of the filmmaker. The story is based on his youth as a son of Jewish parents in America in the 50's and 60's.

At school he was more of an outsider

Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1946. His parents move often, to New Jersey, Arizona, California. He often felt like an outsider at school, he told the BBC. "I wasn't popular and I couldn't throw a football." But he did make short films, for which he "engaged" neighborhood children and schoolmates. The camera made him popular at school.

Some 60 years later, there are over 100 films and series on Spielberg's list that he directed, produced, wrote - or did all together. The diversity is unprecedented: horror, science fiction, adventure, action, fantasy, historical drama, animation, musical - there is hardly a genre that he does not cover.

Spielberg is self-taught, he learns by watching films. In high school, he hangs out at Universal Studios for a summer, absorbing everything he can learn about filmmaking. His short film "Amblin'" (1968) about two hitchhiking teenagers in the hippie era gave him his ticket to Hollywood.

His films have long been legends

His breakthrough came in 1975 with the horror film "Jaws", which ushered in the era of the modern blockbuster. "ET - The Extra-Terrestrial" followed seven years later, followed eleven years later by the dinosaur spectacle "Jurassic Park". Spielberg also refers to his early films as "popcorn movies". With "The Color Purple" (1985), a drama about an African American woman in the southern states at the beginning of the 20th century, he understood that "a film can also be a mission". Although nominated for eleven Oscars, the film goes empty-handed.

Spielberg did not receive the coveted trophy until eight years later, for the Holocaust film "Schindler's List" as best director and for best film. After filming, Spielberg establishes the Shoah Foundation, which records testimonies from Holocaust survivors on video. So far there have been more than 55,000 eyewitnesses. The archive is used by schools and other institutions worldwide.

"The Fabelmans" is not the end of his career

In his films, he explained in interviews, there is always something of himself. His father's wartime past, for example, led to his profound interest in the Second World War. Spielberg received his second Oscar for directing in 1998 for the war film Saving Private Ryan. The separation of his parents leads him to portray children from broken families in his films - like little Elliott, who helps an alien to get back home.

With "The Fabelmans" Spielberg has now made his most personal film. You certainly shouldn't see that as the end of a great career. "I will direct until the end of my life," he said at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. "I love it."

Interview with Spielberg on BBC Radio 4 in December 2022 Spielberg's speech at the 2023 Golden Globes Shoah Foundation Spielberg interviewed at the TCM Classic Film Festival 2022 "The Times" interview with Steven Spielberg 2023