Remembering the Artistic, Educational and Personal legacy of
GCI Co-Founder, Oscar Winning Cinematographer:

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC

 

Remarks from Yuri Neyman, ASC - President & Founding Partner of Global Cinematography Institute.

 

I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend Vilmos.

 

When I heard from his wife Susan, that he passed away I immediately began reflecting on all the wonderful times we spent together talking about life, cinematography, photography, arts, about our native countries and politics, about our film schools, our mentors and their influences on us, about our families and friends, colleagues and peers, about Global Cinematography Institute, about its students and teachers, about our dreams and realities, about what happened and what not and why...

 

I remembered our trips to Budapest, Oslo and Camerimage… I remembered how our friendship began – in such an improbable place as Mosfilm studio in Moscow, where Vilmos photographed the HBO film "Stalin" and on the next stage I photographed the Twenty Century Fox film "Back in the USSR" ("Icons") and how we, two Los Angelinos who arrived in Hollywood from Hungary and the Soviet Union, "bumped" into each other in the Mosfilm cafeteria "for foreigners only."

 

Now, in retrospect, I cannot help but think about the symbolism of the event that happened to me in Rome, when I had just arrived from the Soviet Union, where I saw my very first American film abroad, it was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", photographed by my to be dear friend Vilmos Zsigmond!

 

Humanity in his images is almost unprecedented. His love for people is shown in every film he did, in every frame, in every lighting and camera set up starting from his documentary footage about the nightmarish invasion of the Soviet Army in his beloved Budapest, continuing through his earliest Hollywood days when he was called "William Zsigmond," shooting the classic horror B-Film, "The Incredibly Strange Creatures". He then reached apogee as Vilmos Zsigmond in the fantastic "Close Encounters" before his personal favorite, "The Deer Hunter".

 

I am smiling and amused just thinking of him now and that's the way he would want it. His sense of humor, intelligent irony and sarcasm made me laugh quite a bit! Not so many subjects of our jokes and stories were "sacred" – art, Hollywood, personalities, history, current events... We always managed to find funny and light-hearted angles on all of those subjects. But the subject that was taken seriously was the art of cinematography, respect for cinematographers, and admiration for truly artistic accomplishments and triumphs.

 

Vilmos often mentioned sources of his inspiration and his art. He said once in the interview for “Gamma and Density Magazine”: “My School, My Teachers, Italian Neorealism And Few Soviet Films Which Made Me Who I Have Become…” We had many conversations about "Bicycle Thief", "Mama Roma", "Rome – the Open City" – classics of neorealism. One of the first questions he asked me, when we became close friends, was if I knew where to get one of the most favorite Soviet films of his youth - "Village Teacher," one of the first films photographed by Sergei Urusevsky, mostly known for his virtuosic camera work in "I am Cuba" and "Cranes are Flying." I was so happy to find this DVD for him and then talk about Urusevsky, his artistic evolution from the military documentary cinematographer in WW2 to unsurpassed poet of the moving camera and imaging human emotions.

 

When we founded Global Cinematography Institute in 2011 we discussed, many times, the danger for young cinematographers to become "technological junkies" without understanding the core of our profession – the love of humanity and artistry. And when we coined the term "Expanded Cinematography”® covering traditional and new concepts and techniques for GCI – we both always were on guard to protect the artistry of expression no matter what technology was used or would ever be used.

 

From the very first day of our collaboration Vilmos and I really believe that we're making a difference with Global Cinematography Institute. The objective was, is and always will be to find new ways for cinematographer’s education and to show our students the new ways how to enhance and to improve their art and skill.

 

The greatest legacy Vilmos would like to pass on to the next generation of cinematographers is a legacy of character, love to the people and love to the art of cinematography, and those Global Cinematography Institute traditions and Vilmos’ legacy will continue.

 

He was a truly remarkable man and artist who possessed the gift of enjoying life and laughter, but most of all people’s humanity, which he had an enthusiastic passion to share visually with the world. Though I know, that even in his transition to another world, Vilmos would want all of his family, friends and fans to find a way to laugh and enjoy their own lives and art, so please honor him with me by viewing his films many times again and again!

 

I will miss you my dear friend Vilmos and remember you always!!!

 

Former GCI Students Share Their Thoughts and Memories Honoring Vilmos Zsigmond

Daniel Aviles

GCI October 2012 Graduate

Vilmos being gone is a big loss for cinematography. He created images that will stay in our minds a long time. One of the things I enjoyed the most while at GCI was the opportunity to sit down with him and watch McCabe and Mrs. Miller; while he shared the way they developed the look with Robert Altman: the level of trust in each other and the respect and love for the craft was inspiring.

Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini

GCI November 2012 Graduate

Vilmos was one of the best cinematographers, his passion for teaching and his energy have been awakening for me. Thank you Vilmos for teaching me that cinematography is always about making choices.

John Chang

GCI September 2013 Graduate

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Standing next to Vilmos I have experienced seeing magic through the eyes of a master. It was a humbling and an amazing experience.

Mimi Fuenzalida

GCI October 2014 Graduate

I took a class with Vilmos at the GCI and I was so touched by the fact that being such an accomplished genius as he was, he was incredibly humble and generous with all of us in sharing information and techniques and taking the time to answer all questions regardless of the level. He also gave all of us hope and he said: 'Don’t sell yourselves out’

Jimmy Hammond

GCI February 2013 Graduate

What I remember to couple opportunities meeting Vilmos, was his lesson on making something out of nothing and thinking outside of the box to create things visually. Really great person and I am grateful to have met him.

Jasmine Lord

GCI December 2013 Graduate

I will treasure my conversations with him. He was so forthcoming with knowledge and I'm incredibly grateful for the wonderful school you have created.

Justin Lubke

GCI April 2015 Graduate

What struck me most about learning from Vilmos was his rather relentless focus on getting the lighting to be just right even in a simple demonstration. He was humble but direct in his approach, which is a great lesson for any cinematographer. I realized that even a great master of the craft has to take the time to accurately solve the problem (which often meant a lot small lights for Vilmos!).

Sean Malone

GCI February 2013 Graduate

Even more impressive to me than Vilmos' knowledge and ability, was the fact that he complimented those with grace, kindness, and professionalism. He took the trouble to learn my name, and the names of my fellow students, and he treated everyone with respect no matter what their station.

Richard Salazar

GCI January 2012 Graduate

Prudent. Judicious. Vilmos was a great teacher, he led by example, "cinematography is an art, each movie should have it's own style, nothing should be overdone, and don't shoot against white walls."

Milton Santiago

GCI January 2012 Graduate

Perhaps the biggest thing Vilmos impressed upon me is that more than ever in this era of rapid technological progress, it is imperative to look back and embrace classicism. It is not in understanding the 1s and 0s that cinematographers reflect the human condition. It is in our understanding of character and story and in our manipulation of light, composition, and movement.

Bill Totolo

GCI January 2012 Graduate

When asked about what lenses he used on some of his classic films Vilmos replied, "What lens did I use? A good lens. A good lens is better than a bad lens!" He was emphatic but cheerful, it was a humorous response to the over-emphasis surrounding the gear and not the art of cinematography.

Jan Vaceanu-Staicov

GCI February 2013 Graduate

I will never forget how humble, approachable and generous Vilmos was with sharing his perspective on cinematography. Meeting him and learning from him had a profound impact on me. He was and is a true role model as a Cinematographer and human being.

The Legacy of Vilmos Zsigmond and His Passion for Education
Will Always Be Present at Global Cinematography Institute!