The Stars Were Aligned

“Put me on your board.” Those were the surprising words Steven Spielberg offered as he accepted the Vision Award at the Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) 10th anniversary gala. Speaking to a crowd of some 600, Spielberg stunned everyone, including Executive Director Steve Apkon and President Janet Maslin, who invited Spielberg to the party.  Sitting there, I could almost imagine Apkon leaping off the stage and riding that bicycle over the moon with ET on his handle bars and Janet Maslin, David Swope (Chairman), Art Samberg (Past President) and Barry Shenkman (Jacob Burns’ grandson) biking close behind.   Yes, the (movie) stars were certainly aligned that night.  Who would have thunk that after snaring Director/Producer Ron Howard for their board, they would capture Spielberg’s imagination.  Says Maslin in her understated way, “It was a very nice week.”

Spielberg credits Janet Maslin with introducing him to the JBFC.  They have been great friends over a 35-year period, ever since they were in a car together, driving around the block for the opening of Jaws.  “When we first saw that the line went on and on, I knew his career was certain,” says Maslin. Spielberg said he has had “a long and phenomenal email relationship” with Maslin, a New York Times film and literary critic. She first recognized Spielberg’s talents in a review of his early film, The Sugarland Express (1974). Spielberg underscored his respect for the JBFC for putting film at the center of community conversation, and not surprisingly his pal Maslin has been at the center of that conversation for 10 years, leading the discussion at the close of each film program and interviewing luminaries of the cinema world.

As for Spielberg, he’s in it for the kids. “Film making helps kids find themselves early,” said Spielberg who as a kid shot an 8mm western The Last Gunfight, which won him the merit badge he needed to become an Eagle Scout. Then, as he wound up his candid remarks, he brought on chuckles with the statement that he “used to lie (as in fib) a lot.” He recalled how as a kid he used to make up stories.  “I had an over-active imagination.” Growing up in Phoenix, he said, he had little to do. So he made up stories.  He has been quoted as saying that, “All those horrible, traumatic years I spent as a kid became what I draw from creatively today.” That sounds hopeful for many youngsters, whose lives can be changed by the JBFC and other arts programs in the county.

He hopes social media won’t stop young people from imagining.  “We are losing our private time.  Tell kids they need to spend time with their own thoughts.”  For now, I’ll take Spielberg’s advice. I think I’ll just stop writing, hop on my treadmill and spend some time with my own thoughts, one of which is how I cried at my first movie when I thought Snow White was dead.  Just like Walt Disney, Spielberg makes us laugh and cry through good times and bad, and his presence on the JBFC board will be so appreciated by everyone in Westchester.

Photo credit: Lynda Shenkman Curtis

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