Academics & Faculty

Vilmos Zsigmond named Kodak Cinematographer in Residence at UCLA

Oscar winner to screen his 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller' May 11 on campus

Renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond has been named Kodak Cinematographer in Residence for the spring quarter at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, where he will conduct workshops and seminars on the role of cinematography in collaborative filmmaking.
The annual mentorship program, sponsored by Kodak, was inaugurated in 2000 by professor William McDonald, who oversees UCLA's cinematography program.
"Vilmos Zsigmond overcame seemingly impossible odds to become one of the defining film artists of our times," McDonald said. "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.'"
Zsigmond's residency kicks off with a free screening of "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" at UCLA's James Bridges Theater on Monday, May 11, at 8 p.m.. Zsigmond shot the classic 1971 Western in collaboration with director Robert Altman. McDonald will moderate a discussion with Zsigmond following the screening. The public is invited to attend, along with faculty and students.
Zsigmond joins an all-star group of cinematographers who have participated in the annual mentorship program at UCLA, including Allen Daviau, Conrad Hall, Owen Roizman, Dean Cundey, Roger Deakins, Laszlo Kovacs, Joan Churchill, Steve Burum and Victor Kemper.
"The generous spirit of cinematographers, their passion for their art form and their willingness to share their knowledge and insights have made this program an extraordinarily valuable experience for our students," McDonald said.

Zsigmond won an Academy Award for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1978) and was nominated for "The River" (1985), "The Black Dahlia" (2007) and "The Deer Hunter" (1979) — the last of which won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' cinematography award. 
Zsigmond received an Emmy for the television movie "Stalin" (1993) and a nomination for "The Mists of Avalon" (2002).
"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.
Zsigmond's peers in the American Society of Cinematographers recognized his achievements with the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.

"Vilmos is both a talented artist and a role model for young filmmakers as they prepare to enter this very competitive industry," said 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. Our dedication to investing in tomorrow's filmmakers is as steadfast as our commitment to the future of film."

Zsigmond, who was born and raised in Szeged, Hungary, was a self-taught, passionate still photographer during his teens. While working in a rope factory, he organized a camera club and taught his co-workers how to take pictures. His efforts earned him an opportunity to study at Budapest's Academy of Theater and Film Art.

"During my first year at film school, we studied sculpting, painting and other arts before we touched a motion picture camera," Zsigmond recalled. "(Professor) Gyrgy Ills and my other mentors taught me to appreciate all of the arts."

After completing his education, Zsigmond was working at the state film studio in Budapest when, in October 1956, a popular uprising erupted against Hungary's 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, then made a perilous trek to freedom, carrying their film across the border into Austria.

Zsigmond arrived in the U.S. as a political refugee in 1957. He worked at still-film laboratories in Chicago and New York while learning English. He moved to Los Angeles in 1959 to help Josef Zsuffa, a fellow Hungarian immigrant, produce a short film.

Zsigmond subsequently worked at various odd jobs and shot industrial movies for $2.50 an hour and free 16 mm films for UCLA students. By the early 1960s, he was shooting ultra–low budget features like "The Sadist" and "The Nasty Rabbit," which played at drive-in theaters. "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," with Robert Altman, was his entry into mainstream filmmaking.

"Robert wanted the film to look like old, faded pictures," Zsigmond recalled. "I had read an article about Freddie Young 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 Ills and 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. Ills 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 said. "When I asked Gyrgy 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, he and Kovacs helped organize a biannual, two-week master class 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 or call 310-206-8365. Admission is free. Parking is available in Lot 3. There is a $9 parking fee; a number of pay-by-the-hour parking spaces are also available.
For more information on Kodak, visit, which includes links to ongoing podcasts and blogs on Kodak products and services.
The Kodak Entertainment Imaging Division is the world-class leader in providing film, digital and hybrid motion imaging products, services and technology for the television, feature film, commercial, music video, documentary and exhibition industries.
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