“Above and Beyond,” the documentary about the birth of the Israeli Air Force, started with an obituary. This according to the film’s executive producer, Nancy Spielberg.
Yes, for the record, she is one of those Spielbergs. Yet, despite her impressive credentials — she served as a consultant on the Oscar-winning documentary, “Chernobyl Heart,” and executive produced “Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals” — she is probably not even the second or third most famous member of the clan.
There is, of course, older brother Steven. Sister Anne was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay of “Big.” And then there is Nancy’s daughter, Jessica Katz, a contestant on the Israeli version of “The Voice.”
“Above and Beyond” is about a small group of mostly American, mostly secular Jews who risked everything to sneak aircraft around worldwide embargoes into the newly founded State of Israel — and then fly those planes on missions against the massed armies of five Arab nations.
Czechoslovakia, in desperate need of U.S. dollars, sold Israel Messerschmitts from a German-built factory there — as well as German parachutes and uniforms. Other aircraft and parts were smuggled out of the U.S. and other countries.
Interestingly, one of the pilots was Milton Rubenfeld, the father of entertainer Paul Reubens, better known as Pee Wee Herman, who talks about his dad in the film.
Spielberg spoke to the Forward about being from a “heymish” family, why the director she hired refused her calls, and what it was like growing up as a prop person for her older brother.
Curt Schleier: How did the film come about?