Academy award winning filmmaker Irving Saraf died December 26 at his home in San Francisco. Saraf, 80, succumbed to ALS, which he battled for the last three years. He is the father of Peter Saraf, producer of such films as Little Miss Sunshine and partner with Marc Turtletaub in the film financier/production company Big Beach. Irving Saraf was a long time fixture in the Bay Area film community. After helping to start the Special Projects department at San Francisco public television station KQED, Saraf formed Fantasy Films for Saul Zaentz. With his second wife, Allie Light, Saraf made the Academy Award winning docu, In The Shadow of the Stars and the Emmy award winning Dialogues With Mad Women.
Born Ignatz Szcharfertz in Lodz Poland in 1932, Saraf and family fled the Nazis in 1939 when he was 7. The family eventually 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. He changed his name to Saraf while in Israel and adopted Irving after emigrating to the U.S. in 1952 to attend San Francisco State University at age 20. After falling in love with movies, he transferred to UCLA and graduated with a degree in cinema.
At the fledgling public television station KQED, he made films all over the world on political and literary subjects. That included traveling to Cuba to co-direct a film on Fidel Castro, and he profiled civil rights movement figures that included James Baldwin and Stokely Carmichael. That led him to Zaentz, who formed Fantasy Films as an offshoot of his Fantasy Records label. The films he supervised as production head included One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and the Ralph Bakshi-directed animated The Lord of the Rings. After a decade at Fantasy, he formed the Light/Saraf banner with second wife, Allie Light. They made 17 films including In The Shadow Of the Stars, which won the Oscar for Best Feature Documentary in 1992, and the Emmy-winning Dialogues With Mad Women. He taught film at San Francisco State University, the place that sparked his love for the medium.
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. There are eight grandchildren and a large extended family in Israel, France and the United States.