Branko Lustig, the Oscar-winning Croatian producer behind Schindler’s List and Gladiator, has died at the age of 87.
Lustig’s death was reported by local press in Croatia and an obituary was posted on the website of the Festival of Tolerance, a Jewish film festival for whom Lustig served as president for 10 years.
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Steven Spielberg issued a statement on Lustig’s passing.
“I was heartbroken to hear of Branko’s passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends. When we first met to discuss Schindler’s List, he insisted his award-winning film credits were irrelevant, and that his qualification to work on the film was simple and singular. Rolling up his sleeves to reveal a numeric tattoo from Auschwitz, he left me speechless and our lovely friendship of nearly three decades was born in that intimate moment. Emerging from the horror of the Holocaust, his personal journey is a triumph of hope and determination; a story to which children from some of today’s unthinkable environments can aspire. He will be truly missed.”
Russell Crowe also tweeted about his death. “What an amazing life he led. From the horrors of WWII to the glory of two Academy Awards. He said to me once “you disagree with me a lot, but you’re always my friend on the days I need you”. Yes. Much love Branko. Always your friend,” Crowe said.
Born in 1932, Lustig was a survivor of both the Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen concentration camps during World War II and his experiences in the camps were captured in Schindler’s List.
According to the Festival of Tolerance, Lustig’s film career spanned more than 50 years, during which time he worked with some of the biggest names in the business, from Steven Spielberg on Schindler’s List to Ridley Scott on Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, and The Peacemaker with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.
Schindler’s List and Gladiator took home the Best Picture prize at the Oscars in 1993 and 2000, respectively, while both movies also received a BAFTA for Best Film. “It is a long way from Auschwitz to this stage,” he said after picking up the Oscar for Schindler’s List.
Lustig would go on to set up film production company First Born Films with Daniela Cretu in 2012. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr reported at the time that the company had life rights to Griselda Blanco, the first and only woman in history to head a major Colombian drug network.
After moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s, he returned to Zagreb, Croatia, later in life and in 2019 was named an honorary citizen of the city for his outstanding contribution to promoting the values of a democratic society, film art and culture.