Diector Steven Spielberg made a very special appearance at The Chandler School in Pasadena last week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of his greatest and most important movies, Schindler’s List, and to announce the launch of the USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness Video Challenge.
The foundation was established by Spielberg back in 1994 to videotape interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, and the IWitness Video Challenge is being introduced as a program for middle school and high school students to bring these same testimonies into their classrooms for guided exploration. The idea is to connect kids with the past while engaging them in the present, and Spielberg spoke of how this program came about.
“Over the last two decades I always hoped that the film and the Shoah foundation would know no bounds of age or generation or geography. So today as we launch the IWitness Video Challenge, I have never believed more in the idea that acts of kindness do not always have to be random. In an age of unprecedented technological advancement I was sure our consciences would evolve along those same lines along with those advancements in technology.
But sometimes it seems as if there are still people immune to the notion of empathy or of compassion; people who seek disturbing images on media and on television, people who watch a clip of random violence or discrimination or bullying on YouTube and stand silent. So many in the world refuse to bear witness and do something about it, and I’m finding that many cases technology is becoming more of a vehicle for voyeurism than a vehicle for change. This persistence of inaction is the reason that the mission of this foundation is more relevant today than ever before.
Having said that, and with the utmost hope of what is to come, I’m here to announce the next step in the mission of the Shoah Foundation, the IWitness Video Challenge. The idea behind the challenge is the same idea as what was behind Schindler’s List; that profound change can occur when even one person makes a positive choice. Students will listen to testimonies from IWitness, they’ll develop insight into how to use those testimonies to draw conclusions about how they can better their communities, and they will build a video essay telling the story of how they made their community and anticipate making the world a better place.”
The press conference also coincided with Schindler’s List upcoming Blu-Ray release on March 5. It is a 20th anniversary limited edition, and the film has been digitally restored from the 35mm original negative to where it looks better than ever.
Spielberg remarked that March 1st, 2013 will mark the 20th anniversary of the first day he started shooting Schindler’s List in Kraków, Poland, and like him we are stunned that so much time has gone by since this movie was released. Following the announcement of the IWitness Video Challenge, Spielberg did take the time to answer a few questions from the audience about the film.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: Do you believe that Schindler’s List is the one film in your career that has made the most impact historically, educationally or otherwise?
Steven Spielberg: Yes, by every measure. From someone who lacks perspective, I still feel that Schindler’s List is the film that has made the most amount of material change in the world. When I went to Poland at the end of February 20 years ago, almost to the day, and started work on Schindler’s List, I quickly realized after a couple days of filming that this just wasn’t a natural reflex of my filmmaking instincts; this was going to be something that was going to change my life. I didn’t presume then that it was going to have any effect on the world entire, but I knew that this was something that was going to transform me forever.
We Got This Covered: Back in 1994, the Internet was so much different than it is now. At what point did you decide that this could be something more than a video archive of testimonials, and will there be any way to access the IWitness material on the Schindler’s List Blu-ray?
Steven Spielberg: In 1994 we were doing all of our videotaped testimonies in multiple countries and multiple languages, and we were doing them all on VHS. We were transporting the VHS cassettes back to California for indexing and cataloging which took many, many years to do, so we didn’t have all of the malleable, pliable tools that we have today to access or index this. We had to bring individuals in from so many countries to be able to translate what was being said so some of those testimonies could be indexed and subtitled in English, so we brought people in from France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, all over Eastern Europe and other countries in order to make these testimonies accessible.
My original dream was that we were going to access these testimonies through the teacher community, so one of the very first precepts to the Shoah Foundation was a program I came up with called the Five T’s: Teaching Teachers to Teach Tolerance. It’s even through IWitness that that precept is kind of in full-bloom because the teachers will access IWitness and then they will bring their students into it. This isn’t being sent just to the student population, this is been sent to teachers and it’s up to the teachers to find ways of bringing their students into it to make contributions through video essays to be able to do some good. The Blu-Ray doesn’t have any connectivity to the Internet, but we have a website and there’s so many ways of accessing this testimonies.
We Got This Covered: As new generations have seen, reacted and given feedback to Schindler’s List, how has that influenced your perception of the film that you created 20 years ago?
Steven Spielberg: I think that the film was a stepping stone. None of us make movies thinking that they’re going to do anything other than come out in all the ancillary markets and come out on DVD and come out on television and that’s gonna be it. The shelf life of Schindler’s List has renewed my faith that films can do good work in the world, but it’s up to the people to allow those images to be impressionable, to last and for people to do something about it.
We can’t bring the people in by any other means than through showing them something that moves them and makes them want to learn more. In the case of the Shoah Foundation, the survivor community, all these 52,000 eyewitness testimonies has actually given a personal face to the Holocaust, so the Holocaust isn’t just what we often learn in school which are names and dates and places and times and events, but you actually are able to communicate with the soul of the person who lost everything and everyone but who survived to become themselves teachers. That’s really up to students and teachers and people who go to see movies to decide whether they’re gonna let whatever value the film has to really reverberate through their lives where they can then turn around and do something for the greater good and the greater community.
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