When Steven Spielberg made “Schindler’s List” in 1993, he was already one of the most financially successful movie directors of all time, so rather than reap further gain from the film, Spielberg gave his earnings away. Now, the Forward has learned, Spielberg is doing it again, channeling profits from his 2005 blockbuster “Munich” into a new fund to promote peaceful coexistence between people of different cultures.
The new fund, tentatively called the Fund for Coexistence, will be based at the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Los Angeles-based grant-making organization Spielberg established with the profits from “Schindler’s List.” Rachel Levin, associate director of the Righteous Persons Foundation, anticipates that the Fund for Coexistence will begin making grants in 2007. Exactly how much will be distributed each year in grants has not yet been determined.
The fund is in its very early stages; it does not yet have a definite strategy or long-term plan, and even its name is not set in stone. However, Levin explained, the broad mission is clear: Its focus will be promoting understanding and exchange between people of different cultures and backgrounds. The fund will not focus solely on the Jewish community — and it will have both domestic and international components, the latter of which will almost certainly include the Middle East. This focus will set it apart from the Righteous Persons Foundation in general, which has “focused on supporting American Jewish life in the United States,” according to Levin. Like the foundation, she explained, the new fund will have an arts and culture component — but the fund will be especially interested in the ways that the arts “help bring people together.”
The original plan for the foundation, established in 1994 with $60 million, was to “spend ourselves out of existence,” Levin said. Rather than create an ongoing endowment, Spielberg decided “it was a specific pot of money, and if we spent it out over a short period of time, the impact we could have would be more significant,” she said. Over the course of a decade, the group gave millions of dollars to hundreds of organizations and projects focused on Jews in their 20s and 30s, social justice and arts and media. Grants in 2006, for instance, included commitments to StoryCorps, a traveling sound booth that records the oral histories of ordinary Americans; Reboot, an online community (www.rebooters.net) that seeks to “reboot” Jewish traditions for the next generation, and Jewish Funds for Justice.
The money indeed began to run out a few years ago, but by then, Spielberg knew that another film was in the works whose profits he could earmark. In the interim, rather than close up shop, Spielberg donated enough money each year to keep the foundation fully operational while he made plans for “Munich.”
“Before he went off to make the film,” said Levin, “he let us know that it was a similar situation with ‘Schindler’s List’ — he was not going to take any of the profit that would come to him for himself. He was going to give it away.”
“Munich,” a film based on the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics and the subsequent hunt for the Palestinians behind the attack, has grossed $127.7 million to date. Spielberg’s share — which has not been disclosed — will go to refill the foundation’s coffers. The portion of that money that will constitute the new fund has not yet been determined.