Oscar-Winning Producer Irving Saraf Dies at 80

Irving Saraf
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He produced and directed the feature documentary “In the Shadow of the Stars,” about the San Francisco Opera, and worked on the best picture winner “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Irving Saraf, a producer, editor and director who won an Academy Award for producing the 1991 feature documentary In the Shadow of the Stars, has died. He was 80.

Born in Poland and raised and educated in Israel, Saraf died Dec. 26 at his home in San Francisco after a three-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

One of his sons is Peter Saraf, the Oscar-nominated producer whose résumé includes Adaptation (2002), Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Our Idiot Brother (2011).

Saraf, who came to the U.S. in 1952, founded the film unit of San Francisco public TV station KQED and was the former manager of Saul Zaentz’s production company Fantasy Films. Working with Zaentz, he produced a score of movies and served as postproduction supervisor of the 1976 best picture winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

With Allie Light, his producing partner since 1981 and second wife, Saraf co-directed, edited and produced In the Shadow of the Stars, which relegated the divas to the background to focus on the lives of the members of the chorus of the San Francisco Opera.

Saraf and Light also shared a News and Documentary Emmy for outstanding interview program in 1995 for PBS’ Dialogues With Madwomen.

His more than 150 credits also include the 1965 telefilm Poland, Communism’s New Look; 1966’s USA Poetry: Twelve Films About Modern Poets; and 2009’s Empress Hotel, about the downtrodden residents of the hotel located in San Francisco's Tenderloin district.

A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Saraf received a B.A. in motion pictures from UCLA and for many years taught film production at San Francisco State University.

In addition to Light, his wife of 38 years, and son Peter, Saraf is survived by other children Michal, Ilana, Alexis, Charles and Julia and eight grandchildren.