The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

ASC Dedicates 2008 Heritage Award to Kovacs

Issues Call for Student Entries in Annual Competition

September 20, 2007

LOS ANGELES, August 28, 2007—The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has dedicated the 2008 Heritage Award competition for film school seniors and recent graduates in the United States to the memory of Laszlo Kovacs, ASC who died on July 22. The organization simultaneously issued a call for entries in the annual competition. The deadline for submissions is October 31. The Laszlo Kovacs Heritage Award will be presented to one or more recipients during the 22nd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards on January 26 at Hollywood & Highland.

“Laszlo Kovacs was both an extraordinary artist and human being,” says ASC President Daryn Okada. “He was chairman of the ASC Education Committee for many years, and was tireless in his efforts to support students and other young filmmakers. Laszlo envisioned the Heritage Award as a tangible way for us to inspire talented young cinematography students to pursue their dreams. It was his idea to annually re-dedicate the Heritage Award to the memories of different ASC cinematographers.”

Kovacs overcame formidable obstacles on his way to compiling a memorable body of work. He was born in 1933 on a farm near a rural village in Hungary. When Kovacs was 16 years old, his parents sent him to school in Budapest, hoping he would find a better life as an engineer or doctor. Instead, the youngster developed a passion for movies at local cinemas and enrolled at the Academy of Drama and Film in 1952.

Kovacs was swept up in the tide of history in October 1956, during a spontaneous uprising against the communist regime in Hungary. He and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, who had graduated from the school the previous year, borrowed a 35 mm motion picture camera and documented civilians fighting soldiers and tanks on the streets of the city. After the Russian army crushed the revolt, they made a perilous 20-mile trek carrying the film through a forest to Austria and the free world.

They arrived in the United States as political refugees in February 1957. Kovacs was an outsider who didn’t speak English, but he doggedly pursued his dream. He and Zsigmond agreed to meet in Los Angeles in 1960 to help a former classmate make a short film. They subsequently worked at odd jobs and shot very low budget films, sometimes taking turns being cinematographer and crew. Kovacs also played bit roles.

His star ascended after Easy Rider became an instant classic in 1969. Kovacs likened it to a modern Western with the heroes riding motorcycles instead of horses. By the mid-1970s, film critics routinely described Kovacs and the young directors who collaborated with him as being in the forefront of the American New Wave.

Kovacs compiled more than 70 narrative credits, including such memorable films as Five East Pieces, Shampoo, What’s Up Doc?, The King of Marvin Gardens, Paper Moon, New York, New York, The Runner Stumbles, Frances, Ghostbusters, Mask, Legal Eagles, Return To Me and My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Kovacs received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography in 1998 and the ASC in 2002. In 2005, he and Zsigmond received the inaugural Legends Award from the Hungarian Society of Cinematographers.

Kovacs never forgot his roots. He stayed in touch with his mentors in Hungary during the mid-1960s, and offered tangible support to them and their students. Kovacs and Zsigmond organized and taught students from around the world at a bi-annual, summer master class at their alma mater in Budapest after the Cold War ended.

“It was a measure of Laszlo’s great love for the art that he practiced so well, that he took such a keen and selfless interest in ensuring its future. It is a gift that we will treasure forever, and an example which we hope we will try to live up to,” Lulu de Hillerin, a student at the 2003 Master Class, wrote in a condolence letter to Zsigmond.

“Laszlo was a great filmmaker, and an even better friend,” Zsigmond says. “But, his greatest achievement was his incredible generosity with students. He taught master classes during summers in Hungary, and mentored students in countless seminars at U.S. film schools, festivals and at the ASC clubhouse. No matter how late it got, he always made time to listen to and answer their questions.”

Applicants for the Laszlo Kovacs Heritage Award must be in either their final year of a U.S. film school or a recent graduate. Requirements include a recommendation by the dean, department head or a faculty member, and submission of a student film. Entries will be judged by an ASC jury who will evaluate both the artistry and skill with which the contenders tell stories with moving images that augment the visions of the directors and performances by the actors.

The ASC was chartered in January 1919. There are currently 290 active members of ASC who have national roots in some 20 countries. There are also 150 associate members from sectors of the industry that support the art and craft of filmmaking. Membership and associate membership is by invitation based on contributions that individuals have made to advance the art of visual storytelling.