May 27, 2009
Survivor, Producer is Honored — Again
Film producer Branko Lustig, who will receive the Israel Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award on June 3, is probably the only child Holocaust survivor with two Oscars on his mantle shelf.
The Journal caught up by phone with the peripatetic 77-year-old in Zagreb, capital of his native Croatia, where he was deep in preparations for his annual Jewish film festival.
The producer won his Academy Awards for “Schindler’s List” in 1993 and “Gladiator” in 2001, but his career started much earlier in Croatia, after surviving Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
After a series of local films, he was hired as the European production manager for the memorable ABC television series, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” and also worked on the movies “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Tin Drum.”
His path finally led to Hollywood in 1987, where his credits include such diverse fare as “American Gangster,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Hannibal” and “Kingdom of Heaven.”
He acknowledged some irony in putting on a weeklong Jewish film fest in Zagreb, whose Jewish population of 700 is all that remains of a pre-war Jewish community of 70,000 in Croatia. Most of the Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis with the full cooperation of the Croatian fascist puppet state.
The audiences consist almost entirely of non-Jews, drawn by curiosity, as well as the fact that admission is free, courtesy of a hefty state subsidy.
While Lustig appreciates receiving the lifetime achievement award in Los Angeles, he said he also feels a bit sad. “Does that mean I’m not making any more movies?” he asked.
Not likely. After 53 years in the business, Lustig has struck out on his own and last year formed the Six Point Film Company to make “meaningful, thoughtful, independent films.”
For his initial production, he hopes to make a film about Ethiopian Jews.