Nancy Spielberg: films, federation and the future


Filmmaker Nancy Spielberg. (Gideon Lewin)

Sloane Warner

Nancy Spielberg jokes that when she gets home from road trips, “two things bark at me: my dogs are happy to see me, and my husband says ‘Where have you been?’” She has been “working frantically, which is great,” and traveling to promote her new movie, “Who Will Write Our History,” a film documenting the story of the secret archive in the Warsaw Ghetto. She spoke with The RamPage about her childhood, her movies and her thoughts for the future.

Waffen SS troops at Nowolipie Street, between Smocza and Karmelicka Streets in the Warsaw Ghetto. (Wikipedia)

Spielberg was in Atlanta last week for the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event benefitting the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. This was only her second visit to the city, as her first visit was for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, where her film “Above and Beyond” had the “highest honor” of the opening night position.

Spielberg grew up in Phoenix, “a town where things are sort of comfortable, sort of slow pace,” before moving with her family to Los Angeles, where she attended UCLA. When she moved to Los Angeles, she thought of it as “the big city, and a mad pace.” She would eventually move to New York, saying “I actually chased my husband, literally chased him.” She now goes back and forth between Los Angeles and New York City for her work.

Her production company, Playmount Productions, is a family business. She explained, “Playmount is actually the translation of Spielberg. My dad started it when my brother [Steven Spielberg] was young, to make films, and I took it over.” The company has produced three of her previous works, including “Above and Beyond.” Most of her work focuses on Jewish history. Spielberg said, “The films that I’m interested in doing focus on our heritage and preserving our history.”  

Anti-Semitism was a part of daily life for Spielberg and her family in Phoenix. Her brother, Steven, “he got beat up in school, he didn’t know how to fight back.” She recalls a specific experience with a friend after school one day. “She introduced me to her father, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘You Jews, you think you own the banks and run the world.’ I was shocked. I went home with my knees shaking,” she said.

These experiences have affected the way she raised her children “100 percent,” saying that she “had the benefit of having the choice of where to send them, a great social life, how to set the community around them and how to stay connected.” Spielberg says she brought her kids to Israel when they were as young as 3 months old in order to incorporate a Jewish identity into their lives. Her youngest daughter now lives in a Jewish Federation-supported Moishe House in Los Angeles.

Moishe House is an international non-profit organization made up of a collection of homes throughout the world that serve as hubs for the young adult Jewish community. (Wikimedia Commons)

Spielberg is a self-proclaimed “late in life bloomer” when it comes to the Jewish Federation. That hasn’t stopped her from getting involved, though. When she moved to LA, she wanted to surround herself with Israeli music, food and culture, and wound up discovering the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She has been the speaker for at least two events sponsored by The Jewish Federations and has an event in St. Louis, Missouri on November 1 of this year.  

Spielberg will be focused on her movies for the foreseeable future, saying that she likes to work on projects where “an ‘average Joe’ does something extraordinary.” She says that “no subject is off limits” and that she has some projects in the works now. In the future, Spielberg says, “Eventually, I just want to sit at home and play with my dogs, and be with my family.”

She says that kids who are interested in the film industry should “first of all, don’t give up. It is hard, but sometimes the great stories are right under your nose.” Her advice: “just film stuff, film interviews, do silly things, go out on the street. Sometimes it feels like you’re starting small, but the small stuff these days, YouTube films, it’s a great market for independent small films. You don’t have to aim for the big studios. Explore the world.”