Nancy Spielberg recently produced ‘Above and Beyond’ that screened on July 15th at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The film I a true story about the heroic American volunteers who began the Israel Air Force, and one of the pilots, Lou Lenart.
Spielberg urge Lenart stand up after the screening, and he received a rare event at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which was a standing ovation. Lenart, age 94, served as a US Marine in World War II and led the IAF’s first mission on May 29, 1948. He returned the compliments to the well-wisher in the crowd, by saying, “I’m honored to meet you.”
Spielberg was relieved and pleased at how the film was received; she said, “I was thinking, everybody in the audience is going to tell me where I messed up. It’s a tough crowd... but it’s also family.”
Spielberg exceeded everyone’s expectations, including her own. Three years earlier she had no knowledge of flying. She became intrigued by the subject after seeing the obituary for Al Schwimmer, an American World War II veteran and flight engineer who has been called the godfather of the Israel Air Force. She wanted to know how an American became the godfather of the IAF.
After receiving the blessing from her brother Steven, Nancy immersed herself into making the movie. Steven had considered making a movie in the nineties on such a topic. She began learning everything she could about the Machal, volunteers from abroad who helped the Israeli army during the War of Independence, particularly those who created the IAF.
“I learned quickly, I’m a sponge,” Spielberg told the Jerusalem Post. “I learned a lot out of doing research, talking to these guys. At first when people talked about Messerschmitt, and an ME, and an ME 109, I didn’t realize these were all the same thing... I read a lot of books. One of them that was very helpful was Ehud Yonay’s No Margin for Error, I learned a lot of tech air force jargon. I got it, felt it, saw it, like I was watching Top Gun.”
She found Roberta Grossman, when she was looking for a director. Grossman had made a number of well-known documentaries, including Hava Nagila and Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh. Spielberg was confused when Grossman at first wouldn’t take her calls; eventually realizing that he thought it was her brother Steven.
Once director Grossman understood that it was Nancy Spielberg, he began working with the producer and interviewing the surviving pilots. She also gathered archival material necessary for her film.
Spielberg was not concerned about the current conflict in Israel and glad to participate in the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Her daughter Jessy has been living in Israel for years, “And it’s very hard to be apart in times like this... If I was in the US watching the rockets, I’d be so scared.” Shimon Katz, Spielberg’s husband also accompanied her on the trip.
“I was happy Jessy was with me in Jerusalem [during a recent rocket attack]. It’s not a situation to make light of, but in our family we deal with things like this with nervous laughter. In a tense moment, we let off some steam with a chuckle.”
The film is scheduled to play next on July 27th and 28th at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. In 2015 it is headed for theaters, and Spielberg plans to make it readily available after on DVD and through live streaming.