Film great Steven Spielberg and some of his Hollywood friends will gather in Philadelphia to fete Comcast Corp. chief executive officer Brian L. Roberts - a sign of the city's growing clout in the heart of the movie-making industry.
The May 9 event is a first in Philadelphia for the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation Institute. The gathering should raise $2 million for the institute's work preserving on digital files the memories of Holocaust survivors and expanding its archives of testimony from other genocides.
The only other time the event was held outside Los Angeles was 10 years ago in New York.
The gala at the Loews in Center City - the cheapest ticket, according to one of the organizers, is $1,500 - seems to attest to Philadelphia's newfound influence in Hollywood. Comcast now controls Universal Studios and, perhaps more important, purchases $7 billion a year in entertainment, news, and sports for its subscription cable-TV business.
Comcast gained control of Universal Pictures, which recently released the top-selling and cross-promoted Hop animated movie, in its deal for NBC Universal Inc. The 51 percent acquisition closed in late January.
Preparing for the company's future role in the movie industry, Roberts stopped by Spielberg's production company on the 400-acre Universal lot near North Hollywood as he was touring the NBC Universal properties in 2010. He missed Spielberg that time, but later conversations led Roberts to feel comfortable with accepting the institute's Ambassador for Humanity Award, which would include holding the fund-raiser in Philadelphia.
Spielberg established the institute in 1994 after filming Schindler's List, which told the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler, who managed to save some 1,100 Jews from the gas chambers of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Roberts said that this would be the largest public event he has done since the deal with NBC Universal and that he was honored to participate in it because he considered Schindler's List "one of the moving films of our generation." He is already preparing his remarks for the event. Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi is scheduled to perform at the gala.
In a related announcement Monday, Comcast said it was making available 10 documentary films about the Holocaust to its cable customers through the On Demand service, XfinityTV iPad app, and the Xfinitytv.com website.
Anyone with an Internet connection can view the documentaries online for free at www.philly.com/holocaust. Comcast said it was the first time the films were being offered as a package to a U.S. audience. They will be available through May 25.
Spielberg directed Schindler's List, which starred Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley. Other films Spielberg directed while at Universal included Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park.
Philadelphia lawyer Stephen A. Cozen, chairman of the 550-attorney Center City firm Cozen O'Connor, is a longtime member of the Shoah Institute's Board of Councilors. Cozen said he approached Roberts several years ago about the award.
"While Brian was supportive of our cause, he did not think the timing was appropriate," Cozen said. Roberts then agreed in 2010. About 650 are expected to attend. Said Cozen: "It's going to be a great, great night."