Steven Spielberg launches his film memoir “The Fabelmans”

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TORONTO (AP) — Steven Spielberg premiered his highly anticipated “The Fabelmans” to thunderous applause at the Toronto International Film Festival, debuting his most autobiographical film and one of the 75-year-old filmmakers has said that he had built all his life.

“The Fabelmans,” which Spielberg wrote with Tony Kushner, draws heavily from the director’s own childhood — his parents, played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano in the film, and his early training as a filmmaker. The film opens with a shy young boy outside a cinema going to see his first movie (“The Greatest Show on Earth”). Her mother encourages her: “Movies are dreams, doll.”

“It’s obviously something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Spielberg said onstage after the Saturday night screening. “I didn’t really know when I was going to get into it. It’s not because I decided to retire and this is my swan song. Don’t believe any of this.”

Spielberg said he first talked about what would become “The Fabelmans” with Kushner while making “Lincoln.” The playwright, Spielberg said, acted as therapist as Spielberg unloaded his memories. But it will be necessary to wait for the pandemic so that the director decides to tell, for the first time, his own story.

“As things got worse and worse, I thought if I was going to leave something behind, what was the thing that I really needed to figure out 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 has also brought my sisters – Annie, Sue and Nancy – closer together than I ever thought possible. And it was worth making the movie.

Universal Pictures will release “The Fabelmans” on November 11 in New York and Los Angeles before expanding it nationwide on November 23. Its world premiere in Toronto – which will immediately follow Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” at the Princess of Wales Theater – was a major and unusual event. It was Spielberg’s first film at TIFF, and he said during the film’s presentation that it was his first time on an official film festival lineup.

The two-and-a-half-hour film was immediately received as a big, personal opus for Spielberg, almost certain to land a starring role at the Oscars. Besides Williams, who is pregnant with her third child, and Dano, the cast includes Seth Rogen as a close family friend, a standout brief performance from 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 old Spielberg photographs, home movies and long Zoom conversations with the director. “The goal was to capture a life lived.”

While there are some very drawn-out movie moments carrying Sammy around, “Fabelmans” may surprise some for the intricacy with which it weaves film and family life together. Cinema in Spielberg’s film is both transformative and dangerous; a way to express genuine emotion and hide it. Kushner, a frequent Spielberg collaborator, said the film demonstrates how “film is an unreliable friend”.

“It will take you to a safe place and throughout the security is something unexpected and scary,” Kushner said. “It happens over and over again in the movie.”

“The Fabelmans” is populated by early experimentation with 8mm cameras, short films made with 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 stuff in that movie way better than the real movies I did when I was Sammy’s age,” Spielberg said with a smile. “It was a great overhaul.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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