Steven Spielberg has delivered a powerful, emotional speech upon receiving the Berlinale honorary Golden Bear, in which he said he is “not finished” as a filmmaker and wants “to keep working, learning, discovering and scaring the shit out of myself, and sometimes the shit out of you.”
The legendary US director gave the address last night (February 22) in Berlin when accepting the lifetime achievement awards, ahead of a screening of his latest film The Fabelmans.
Scroll down to read the full text of Spielberg’s speech
Receiving standing ovations when he entered the room, and at both the beginning and end of his 11-and-a-half minute speech, Spielberg said that “the anxieties, uncertainties and fears that tormented me as I began shooting [1971 TV movie] Duel have stayed vivid for 50 years, as if no time has passed.
“Luckily for me, the electric joy I feel on the first day of work as a director is as imperishable as my fears. Because there’s no place more like home for me than when I’m working on a set.”
He thanked his wife Kate - “who since 1983 has made so much of me possible”; his children; his parents; and all those who have worked on his films. “The bashfulness [at accepting a lifetime achievement award] comes mostly from being aware that I haven’t achieved anything as a solo act. All my films have been collaborations, with great artists.”
Spielberg also said he is “a little alarmed to be told I’ve lived a lifetime, because I’m not finished!”, to cheers from the audience. He plans to continue making films “as long as my audience can find joy and other human values in my films”, and even joked that his genes – his father Arnold lived to 103 years old – could allow him to challenge Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s record of directing at the age of 106.
The director also touched on the relevance of receiving the award as a Jewish filmmaker in Germany, location for much of the Holocaust – the subject of Spielberg’s 1993 classic Schindler’s List. “The German people have shown themselves willing to read their country’s history; to confront its lessons regarding antisemitism, bigotry, xenophobia – the harbingers of the Holocaust,” said Spielberg. “Other countries, including my own, can learn a lot from the courageous determination of the Germany people to act to prevent fascists from seizing power.”
An evening hosted by German presenter Hadnet Tesfai began with short comments from Berlinale co-directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, about their memories of Spielberg. Rissenbeek noted seeing Duel, Spielberg’s first feature, but not realising it was his film until 20 years later – “he is good for surprises”. Chatrian cited a scene in The Fabelmans where a young character faces a gigantic image on screen. “The little and the big is what makes Spielberg so unique,” said Chatrian.
A four-minute clip reel of Spielberg’s work was then followed by an introduction from U2 popstar Bono. The singer cited Spielberg’s 1974 crime drama The Sugarland Express in relation to a personal memory of his mother; 2001 sci-fi A.I. in relation to Hollywood – “Steven is the soul in the machine”; and the Indiana Jones series through a historical analogy – “[Steven] has been digging up the past so he can get a better look at the present.”
Earlier in the day, Spielberg had said he has “no idea” what he is going to do next, at a press conference for his honorary award.
The Berlinale continues until Sunday, February 26.
Steven Spielberg’s Berlin speech
Well, how do I follow that? How do I follow Bono, and the beautiful context and contextualizing the entire experience of my life? Bono – that was one of your most beautiful songs, thank you, thank you so much. Please, let me begin by thanking the Berlin Film Festival. The directors of the festival – Mariette, thank you, Rissenbeek, and Carlo Chatrian, and the head of the Deutsche Kinomatic, Rainer Rother - are you here? OK great, great. And the minister of culture and media, Claudia Roth, thank you Claudia, we sat right next to each other tonight. And all the patrons and all the staff of the festival for this truly overwhelming honour. I’ll talk to you about the bear a little bit later, I’ve got a little story about a bear but we’ll get to that later.
So 118 years ago Albert Einstein theorized that time is not constant – it speeds up, it slows down, maybe it even curves back on itself. And physicists have now proven that Einstein was right, which is exciting, but maybe a little less exciting for people who have reached the age I’ve reached. Because by the time you’re 76, you probably already know that a 26-year-old Einstein hit the nail on the head. Because time only appears to be measurable by clocks and calendars. Time is really just a trick of the mind, and it’s a trick of the light. I’ve been directing a long time – six decades – but it feels to me like I directed Duel and Jaws last year. At 76 I knew a lot more about moviemaking than I did when I was 25, and I directed my first feature film at 25. But the anxieties and the uncertainties and the fears that tormented me as I began shooting Duel have stayed vivid for 50 years, as if no time has passed. Luckily for me, the electric joy I feel on the first day of work as a director is as imperishable as my fears. Because there’s no place more like home for me than when I’m working on a set. The truth of my life is contained in my fears and my joys and my work; and in my truest home, my truest home – in my family home, far more than hours and days and years I’ve apparently traversed, as you call that to attention quite beautifully tonight. And in falling in love with a beautiful, brilliant woman, an extraordinary artist, my soul’s companion, my Kate, right there.
Kate, who since 1983 has made so much of me possible. And then becoming the father of our children – in my heart, all these things happened yesterday. Even though Kate and I have been together for 39 years, my kids are adults now, and several with kids of their own. And I’m a grandpa, incredible though it seems to me; it’s no less incredible to me that my mum and dad are gone. Leah, my mom died in 2017; and three years later I lost my dad. Now, no one who becomes a newly-minted orphan can escape the remembrance of things past. For most of my very busy life, I’ve been on a bullet train. But change and loss, it accumulates, ‘til you realise that more and more of your life resides in memory. And that’s why I decided with my latest film, The Fabelmans, it was time to look back at my early life, at the world I was born into, and emerged out of so that I could make my way, make my mistakes and make my movies. And because I made my movies, I get to be in Berlin tonight accepting this overwhelming honour for lifetime achievement. Which makes me feel a little bit bashful about being recognised for lifetime achievement. The bashfulness comes mostly from being aware that I haven’t achieved anything as a solo act. All my films have been collaborations, with great artists. And so, of course, my life, my family, is a collaboration.
Now I also feel a little alarmed to be told I’ve lived a lifetime, because I’m not finished. [cheers from audience]
I’m not finished! I want to keep working, I want to keep learning and discovering and scaring the shit out of myself, and sometimes the shit out of you. I’ve got to get back to some of those earlier scarier movies, but that’s another story for later on.
As long as there’s joy in it for me, and as long as my audience can find joy and other human values in my films, I’m reluctant to ever say that’s a wrap. To be honest, I’d like to beat Manoel de Oliveira’s record and direct my last film when I’m 106. My dad, my father Arnold lived to 103 ½ so theoretically I got the genes, and maybe I got the luck, but only Einstein knows. Only he knows for sure.
Now like every other filmmaker I owe an incalculable debt to German cinema. From F. W. Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch, to Douglas Sirk and Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang; the pioneers, enlargers and refiners of how film reveals truth. Among the directors of my era, I’ve been challenged, I’ve been goaded, inspired by Fassbinder, Herzog, Margarethe von Trotta, Wim Wenders, Wolfgang Petersen, Volker Schlondorff, Thomas Tykwer. If this honour means that my work has found a home in Germany, then tonight I feel like I’m home too.
This honour has particular meaning for me because I’m a Jewish director. And I like to believe that this is a small moment in a much larger ongoing effort of healing the broken places of history; what Jews call ‘tikkun olam’, the repairing and restoring of the world. So I established the Shoah Foundation in 1994 because I’m convinced that what historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi wrote is true – the opposite of justice is not injustice, the opposite of justice is forgetting. Reconciliation is possible only when we remember what’s happened. And the Shoah Foundation’s video history archive has gathered the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, as well as testimonies of atrocities and genocides all around the world. And Germany has long been an essential partner in the Shoah Foundation’s work. Private citizens, and the German government, and the Berlin Film Festival have joined us in gathering and interviewing witnesses, and introducing documentaries, in spreading educational materials and helping us make our archives widely available throughout Germany and western Europe – the German people have shown themselves willing to read their country’s history; to confront its lessons regarding antisemitism, bigotry, xenophobia – the harbingers of the Holocaust. Other countries, including my own, can learn a lot from the courageous determination of the Germany people to act to prevent fascists from seizing power. A nation can be called just only if it refuses the convenient amnesia that tempts all of us. And after the 20th century maybe no nation should flatter or delude itself that it deserves to be called just. But we shouldn’t deny the possibility of justice; we shouldn’t stop pursuing it. That pursuit is our best hope of finding meaning in life, and that begins with remembering.
So, so I stand here in Berlin accepting the Golden Bear, and I have to confess – that bears really scare me! More even than sharks! But it’s good to be scared. As well as grateful, bashful and alarmed. So thank you for this Golden Bear, that bellows at me ‘look back – look where you’ve been!’ And I can’t imagine a more meaningful occasion to be thus admonished. Thank you.
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