Schindler's List

For which movie did Steven Spielberg win his first Oscar for Best Director?

And the answer: Schindler's List.  

Photo credit: David James / BPI. 

Steven Spielberg has been nominated for multiple Best Director Oscars, starting with the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As of 2021, he has won twice, for the 1993 film Schindler's List and for the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan.

Schindler's List is a uniquely painful, keen, and necessary telling of the harrowing experience of Jewish refugees in the Holocaust. The story is based on Australian author Thomas Keneally's novel Schindler's Ark, which is a historical fiction depicting the effort of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who together with his wife Emilie Schindler saved more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during World War II.

The inspiration from which the film draws its narrative grew from a chance encounter between Poldek Pfefferberg, one of the Schindlerjuden (literally translated to "Schindler Jews") and author Keneally in 1980. Pfefferberg, who had made it his life goal to tell the story of the Schindler Jewish refugees, found voice for his story in Keneally. Eventually, the author went on to write the screenplay for the film.

While Schindler's List went on to win several Oscars, including one for Best Director, Spielberg was incredibly hesitant to sign on to the title. Before accepting, Spielberg even reached out to several other directors who he gauged to be better equipped to tell the story. Indeed, Spielberg wasn't sure he was mature enough to address this subject until he observed Holocaust-deniers receiving serious consideration in the media. Worried for a return to intolerance, Spielberg finally signed on, forgoing a salary for the film.

Shot over the course of just 72 days, Spielberg did not expect the film to succeed. The modest budget of $22 million and quick schedule created a rough, true-to-life feel that critics later applauded. Much of the film was shot on location in Kraków, Poland, in a black-and-white documentary style.

Today, Schindler's List is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the late 20th century, and has been deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress in 2004 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Read more about its production and reception here.


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