Academy award winning filmmaker, Irving Saraf, died December 26 at his home in San Francisco, as announced by Deadline today, December 30, 2012. Saraf, 80, succumbed to ALS, which he battled for the last three years. He is the father of Peter Saraf, producer of great films such as “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Adaptation” and he is a partner with Marc Turtletaub in the film financier/production company Big Beach.
According to Deadline, Saraf was born Ignatz Szcharfertz in Lodz Poland in 1932. He and his family fled the Nazis in 1939 when he was seven, and they found refuge in Triest, Italy, where they were fortunate enough to board a ship to Palestine. However, Italy, in alliance with Germany, joined the war and demanded that the ship return to Italy, but the British liberated the vessel and its occupants – thus saving Saraf and his family.
The family ended up in Malta and eventually made its way to Alexandria, Egypt before traveling by train to Haifa. They settled in Palestine, where Saraf took the Hebrew first name of Itzhac. He was one of the first citizens of the new nation of Israel and became an active member in the youth movement, Hashomer, and later served as a lieutenant in the Israeli. While in Israel, he changed his surname to Saraf and adopted the first name Irving after emigrating to the U.S. in 1952. After arriving in America when he was 20 years old, Saraf enrolled in San Francisco State University. However, Saraf quickly fell in love with the world of film and subsequently transferred to UCLA to pursue the art and graduated with a degree in cinema.
After graduation, Saraf took a job at the new fledgling public television station, KQED, where he made films all over the world on political and literary subjects. One film led him to Cuba to co-direct a film on Fidel Castro, and civil rights movement figures that included James Baldwin and Stokely Carmichael. The project led him led him to Zaentz, who formed Fantasy Films as an offshoot of his Fantasy Records label.
While at Fantasy Films, Saraf supervised as a production head on the legendary films “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which won 5 Oscars and “Amadeus,” which won 8 Oscars. Both films won the Oscar for Best Picture. After a decade at Fantasy, Saraf formed the Light/Saraf banner with second wife, Allie Light. They made 17 films together, including “In the Shadow of the Stars,” which won the Oscar for Best Long Documentary in 1992, and the Emmy-winning “Dialogues With Mad Women.” Saraf later taught film as San Francisco State University, the University that inspired his career in the first place.
Saraf is survived by Light, his wife of 38 years and his children, Michal, Ilana and Peter Saraf, Alexis Seymour, Charles Hilder III and Julia Hilder. He also leaves behind a large extended family in Israel, France and the United States, including eight grandchildren.