The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

Vilmos Zsigmond Named Kodak Cinematographer in Residence at UCLA;

Free Screening of


April 30, 2009

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC has been named Kodak Cinematographer in Residence for the spring quarter at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Theater, Film and Television. The mentorship program was inaugurated by Professor William McDonald with the support of Kodak in 2000.
“Vilmos Zsigmond overcame seemingly impossible odds to become one of the defining film artists of our times,” McDonald says. “Leonard Maltin hit the nail on the head when he wrote, ‘Recognition for cinematographers in general is long overdue. When it comes to Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, it’s clear that the American New Wave of the late 1960s and early ‘70s wouldn’t have flowered as it did without them.’”

The residency program will begin with a free screening of McCabe & Mrs. Miller at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA campus in Westwood at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 11. Zsigmond shot that classic 1971 Western in collaboration with director Robert Altman. McDonald will moderate a discussion with Zsigmond after the screening. The public is invited to attend along with faculty and students.
Zsigmond joins an all-star cast of cinematographers who have participated in the annual mentorship program, including Allen Daviau, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC, Owen Roizman, ASC, Dean Cundey, ASC, Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, Joan Churchill, ASC, Steve Burum, ASC and Victor Kemper, ASC.

“The generous spirit of cinematographers, their passion for their art form, and their willingness to share their knowledge and insights has made this program an extraordinarily valuable experience for our students,” McDonald says.
Zsigmond won an Oscar for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1978, and other nominations for The River in 1985, The Black Dahlia in 2007 and The Deer Hunter in 1979, which also won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for cinematography. Zsigmond received an Emmy Award for the television movie Stalin in 1993 and another nomination for The Mists of Avalon in 2002. The American Society of Cinematographers presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Zsigmond in 1999.

Deliverance, The Long Goodbye, Cinderella Liberty, The Rose, The Witches of Eastwick and Maverick are among the many other memorable films in his body of work.

“Vilmos is both a talented artist and a role model for young filmmakers as they prepare to enter this very competitive industry,” says Peter Boyce, general manager of the Americas region for Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging Division. “It is our privilege to continue our support for this residency program. Our dedication to investing in tomorrow’s filmmakers is as steadfast as our commitment to the future of film.”

Zsigmond was born and raised in Szeged, Hungary. He was a self-taught, passionate still photographer during his teens. Zsigmond worked in a rope factory, where he organized a camera club and taught his co-workers how to take pictures. That earned him an opportunity to study at the Academy of Theater and Film Art in Budapest.

“During my first year at film school, we studied sculpting, painting and other arts before we touched a motion picture camera,” Zsigmond recalls. “(Professor) György Illés and my other mentors taught me to appreciate all of the arts.”
Zsigmond had recently completed his education and was working at the state film studio in Budapest in October 1956, when there was a popular uprising against the communist regime. He and Kovacs, who was still a student, borrowed a 35 mm film camera and documented the brutal suppression of the revolt by the Russian army. They made a perilous trek to freedom, carrying their film across the border into Austria.

Zsigmond arrived in the United States as a political refugee in February 1957. He worked at still film laboratories in Chicago and New York while he was learning to speak English one word at a time. Zsigmond moved to Los Angeles in 1959 to help Josef Zsuffa, a fellow Hungarian immigrant, produce a short film.
He subsequently worked at various odd jobs, shot industrial movies for $2.50 an hour, and free 16 mm films for UCLA students. By the early 1960s, Zsigmond was shooting ultra-low budget features, e.g. The Sadist and The Nasty Rabbit, which played at drive-in theaters. McCabe & Mrs. Miller was his entry into mainstream filmmaking.

“Robert (Altman) wanted the film to look like old faded pictures,” Zsigmond recalls. “I had read an article about Freddie Young (BSC) flashing film to get that look. I both pre-exposed and pushed the negative to get the look Robert wanted. Executives at the studio hated the look when they saw dailies. They wanted Robert to fire me, but he fooled them by blaming it on the lab. He said, ‘They don’t know how to make dailies.’”

Zsigmond stayed in touch with Illés, his other teachers and classmates in Hungary by mail. In 1970, a Hungarian film titled A pl-utcai fik (The Boys from Paul Street) was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category. Illés was the cinematographer. Zsigmond was at the airport to greet his mentor when the plane landed in Los Angeles.

“The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Why aren’t you coming home to visit?’” Zsigmond says. “When I asked György how I could repay him for all that he had done for me, he told me to reach out to and help the next generation of filmmakers.”

Zsigmond subsequently arranged regular visits to the film school in Hungary. After the Cold War ended, he and Kovacs helped to organize a bi-annual, two-week masterclass in cinematography at their alma mater for students from around the world.

For more information about the May 11 screening of McCabe & Mrs. Miller visit www.tft.ucla.edu or call 310-206-8365. Admission is free. There is a $9 parking fee. A limited number of pay-by-the-hour parking spaces are also available in Lot 3. For more information about Kodak, visit www.kodak.com/go/motion.



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