31-08-2010

Lifetime Achievement Award “Golden CAMERA 300”

Vilmos ZSIGMOND, ASC

Finally, it is our exquisite pleasure to announce that our life-long wish is coming true! One of the masters of world film art - the Hungarian born naturalized American - cinematographer Vilmos ZSIGMOND, ASC who, according to the 2003 International Cinematographers' Guild, was named among the 11 most influential world cinematographers of all times, is coming to Bitola, to Macedonia. We are exceptionally grateful and privileged to present the "Lifetime Achievement Award Golden Camera 300" of our Manaki Brothers Film Festival to this cinematographic giant. Thus, Vilmos ZSIGMOND, ASC will enrich our laureate club of world masters, affirming the prestigious position of the first and the oldest world festival praising and celebrating art and the exceptional artists who transform the film works, from words on paper into moving pictures, as their cinematographic/photographic creation.

Vilmos ZSIGMOND, ASC, was born on 16 June 1930, in Szeged, Hungary, a small town whose main industry was a rope factory. He was barely in his teens when World War II ended, and when the marionette Hungarian government, under the dictatorship of the Soviet army and Moscow, established a communist regime which cut off all contact with the Western world. At that time, young Vilmos developed a keen interest in still photography while reading "The Art of Light," a book filled with photographs taken by Eugene Dulovits. Because of his parents' bourgeois background, the communist authorities initially denied him the privilege of continuing his education. Instead, Zsigmond was put to work in the rope factory. He saved money to purchase a camera and became a self-taught still photographer. Zsigmond organized a camera club at the factory where he taught his fellow workers how to take pictures. He was rewarded by being allowed to study cinematography at the Academy for Theater and Film Art in Budapest. The idea was that he would come back to the factory and teach his fellows how to make home movies. However, the turning point in his young life predestining his late career happened on 23 October, 1956, shortly after Zsigmond graduated from the Academy in 1955, while working in the national film studio, together with his best friend from the Academy, Laszlo Kovacs, ASC they borrowed an Arriflex motion picture camera, and recorded thousands of feet of 35mm black-and-white film documenting the slaughter of brave civilians fighting Russian tanks and soldiers on the streets of Budapest. After the rebellion was crushed, ZSIGMOND and KOVACS secretly carried the film out of the country during a perilous journey across the border into Austria. After developing the negative and selling the film to a producer they made it possible for the world to see what had happened in the rebellious and bloody 1956 invasion of Budapest, the two of them migrated to the United States as political refugees with a dream of becoming Hollywood cinematographers in February, 1957. They didn't speak a word of English, and had no connections in the American film industry. Zsigmond supported himself by working at odd jobs and spending weekends and evenings shooting 16 mm educational and student films. He found a niche in the TV commercial industry, and also began shooting low-budget features aimed at drive-in theaters during the mid-late 1960s.

In 1971, the great director Robert ALTMAN asked ZSIGMOND to shoot his film "McCABE & MRS. MILLER" (BAFTA Award for Zsigmond). This was Zsigmond's entry into mainstream Hollywood, and four decades later Zsigmond has built his career which compiles over 80 narrative film credits, that mark the 54 years from his arrival in the United States, and he has become a legend in his own time.

Zsigmond demonstrated his vitality in his 80s by his proliferate creative energy, signing several new films, among which is his latest collaboration with Woody ALLEN (after the previous two films "MELINDA, MELINDA" in 2004 and "CASSANDRA'S DREAM" in 2007) in the comedy-drama "YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER" (screened in the competition lineup at this year's 63rd Cannes Film Festival). Vilmos had his career triumph in his late forties, i.e. at 47, when in 1977, after his successful collaboration with Steven SPIELBERG in 1974 on "THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS", he shot the Spielberg's sci-fi film "CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND" for which he won his first and only Academy Award for Best Cinematography. This si-fi paradigm film will always be remembered by the magical sequences shot by cinematographer ZSIGMOND visually transforming the ideas of the author, screenwriter and director Spielberg to the negative. When he earned the Oscar he dedicated the award to his mentors at the film school in Hungary during a memorable acceptance speech that was seen on television by millions of people around the world. This was followed by three other Academy Award nominations. One year after winning the Oscar, in 1978 he made his second master piece "THE DEER HUNTER" and was nominated again for the Academy Award (the film won five Academy Awards that year; Best Picture, Best Director for Michael CIMINO, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the excellent Christopher WALKEN) for which Zsigmond won the BAFTA Award. The great film director, Milos FORMAN said that he considered "this film to be one of the ten greatest films of all time." Zsigmond in collaboration with Cimino and the actors created dozens of anthological sequences among which is the unforgettable orthodox wedding in the Russian/American working class suburbs of Pennsylvania, De Niro's deer hunting, followed by dramatic sequences of the madness of the Vietnamese battlefield, and further the horror when as captives soldiers were forced to play the deadly game of Russian roulette, De Niro and Walken in their roles as the two character friends portrayed this scene marvelously .

Vilmos ZSIGMOND received his other Academy Award Nominations for his two other anthological films: THE RIVER (1984) directed by Mark RYDELL and THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006) directed by Brian De Palma. Zsigmond started his collaboration with these two directors working on their previous films, with RYDELL on "CINDERELLA LIBERTY" (1973) and "THE ROSE" (1979); with De Palma on "OBSESSION" (1976) and the cult suspense-thriller genre film "BLOW OUT" (1981). The initial collaboration with Altman, which paved the way for his climb to the top of the film world elite continued with the films: "IMAGES" (1972) (BAFTA for Zsigmond) and "THE LONG GOODBYE" (1973). In the fruitful 1972 period, in addition to Altman, Zsigmond gained prominence with John BOORMAN's suspense filled "DELIVERANCE" (winning another BAFTA Award), and repeating his effective collaboration with Cimino in the film "HEAVEN'S GATE" (1980).

For his rich creative artistic opus Vilmos ZSIGMOND has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Polish Film Festival CAMERIMAGE in 1997 and the American Society of Cinematographers in 1990.

In 2005, Zsigmond and Kovacs were among the first laureates of The Legends Award from the Hungarian Society of Cinematographers. The award is a tribute to cinematographers whose lives and film are an inspiration to other filmmakers around the world. Zsigmond just recently returned from his alma mater in Budapest where he mentored film students in a master class. He and Kovacs helped to create the concept for the semi-annual summer master class in 1994.

In 2008, inspired by the great friendship/brotherhood among these two famous Hungarian born naturalized Americans, the master cinematographers Vilmos ZSIGMOND and Laszlo KOVASC, screenwriter and director James CHRESSANTHIS made the now famous documentary feature "NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO&VILMOS", where numerous American film makers such as directors: Peter BOGDANOVICH, Richard DONNER, Dennis HOPPER, Mark RYDELL, Bob RAFELSON and many leading American actors, such as: Karen BLACK, Sandra BULLOCK, Barbra STREISAND, and their fellow cinematographers: Vittorio STORARO, Haskell WEXLER, composer John WILLIAMS, producer and director Irwin WINKLER - all participate in the documentary and talk about Laszlo and Vilmos as artists and about their collaborations with them as film makers.

This step-by-step portrait is only the introduction of what we are anxiously awaiting in Bitola, where we will have the opportunity of learning more from him in person, at the traditional meeting with the Laureate Vilmos ZSIGMOND, during his Master Class and through Q&A helping us to enrich the image we have of this master of the world of film art.

Blagoja KUNOVSKI-DORE

Art Director

(Reference: Bob Fisher and The Mack Agency; IMDB;

Wikipedia; www.cinematographers.nl)