TORONTO (AP) — Steven Spielberg premiered the highly anticipated “The Fabelmans” to thunderous applause at the Toronto International Film Festival, debuting his most autobiographical film and one the 75-year-old director said he’s been building for his entire life.
“The Fabelmans,” which Spielberg wrote with Tony Kushner, draws heavily from the director’s own childhood — from his parents, played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano in the film, and from the early of him as a director. The film opens with a shy young boy outside a movie theater going to see his first movie (“The Greatest Show on Earth”). His mother encourages him: “Movies are dreams, baby.”
“It’s something I’ve obviously been thinking about for a long time,” Spielberg said on stage after the screening late Saturday. “I didn’t really know when I was going to get to it. It’s not because I decided to retire and that’s my swan song. Don’t believe any of it.”
Spielberg said he first discussed what would become “The Fabelmans” with Kushner during the filming of “Lincoln.” The playwright, Spielberg said, played the role of therapist as Spielberg unloaded his memories. But only after the pandemic, the director decided to tell, for the first time, his own story.
“As things got worse and worse, I felt like if I was going to leave something behind, what was it that I really needed to resolve and unpack?” Spielberg said.
Spielberg, whose three sisters were in the audience, later added, “This movie is a way for me to bring my mom and dad back. And it also brought my sisters—Annie and Sue and Nancy—closer to me than I ever thought possible. And that’s why the film was worth making.”
Universal Pictures will release “The Fabelmans” on Nov. 11 in New York and Los Angeles before expanding nationwide on Nov. 23. Its world premiere in Toronto — which happened right after Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” at the Princess of Wales Theater — was a momentous event and an unusual one. It was Spielberg’s first film at TIFF, and when introducing the film he said it was his first time in the official lineup of a film festival.
The two-and-a-half-hour film was immediately hailed as a major and personal project for Spielberg, but it will certainly play a starring role at the Academy Awards. In addition to Williams, who is pregnant with her third child, and Dano, the cast includes Seth Rogen as a close family friend, a brief standout performance by Judd Hirsch, Jeannie Berlin and newcomer Gabriel LaBelle who plays Sammy Fabelman , the fictional young Spielberg.
“Steven was generous in letting us into his life,” said Dano, who said he had access to Spielberg’s old photos, home movies and his lengthy Zoom conversations with the director. “The goal was to capture a life you lived.”
While there are vivid movie moments that carry Sammy, “Fabelmans” may surprise some with how intricately it blends filmmaking and family life. Cinema in Spielberg’s film is both a transformative force and something dangerous. a way of expressing genuine emotion and hiding from it. Kushner, a frequent Spielberg collaborator, said the film shows how “film is an unreliable friend”.
“It’s going to take you to a place of safety, and right through safety is something unexpected and scary,” Kushner said. “It happens over and over in the movie.”
“The Fabelmans” is populated by early experiments with 8mm cameras, short films featuring family members and increasingly ambitious short films. All reflect Spielberg’s early forays into filmmaking, though there are some differences.
“I did all the behind-the-scenes of this movie much better than the actual movies I did when I was Sammy’s age,” Spielberg said with a smile. “It was a great ending.”
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP