First, a word on the men responsible for this film.
I had the privilege of meeting Vilmos and Director Jim Chrissanthis the day before they screened this film. Both men were wonderful and they talked to me, a stranger, for lengths of time about film and were happy to answer each and every single one of my questions with complete passion and years of experience behind their answers. They are men who truly love their craft and are happy to share their knowledge with those who are less experienced.
I was excited to learn that after the screening, there would be a Q&A session with Mr. Zsigmond and Mr. Chrissanthis.
I was blessed to see this film being projected from a glorious 35mm print. The print had seen better days, but besides a few scratches here and there, the actual footage was just beautiful. Those scratches quickly disappeared from my mind as the film flew by at blinding speed. Including footage from interviews with the industry's top people (including Dennis Hopper, Sharon Stone, John Williams and Richard Donner), Chrissanthis molds a beautiful narrative of two men passionate about film and how they became like brothers through their struggles while going from "nobody's" to two of the industry's best assets.
Unfortunately, the second subject of this film, László Kovács, passed away in his sleep in the middle of production of this film. That didn't matter though, because in the hour and a half running time, Chrissanthis shows Mr. Kovács in candid interviews and told his and Vilmos' story so well, that by the end, I nearly cried because of the fact that this film made me care about Mr. Kovács and recognize him for the warm and talented human being he was, despite not knowing him.
The film opens up on Vilmos holding his cellphone to his ear. A few other men are next to him waiting. After a moment they all start singing "Happy Birthday" - to László. What a perfect way to start off this film. Jim Chrissanthis then takes us back to 1956 Hungary at the start of the Hungarian Revolution. Kovács, Zsigmond, as well as about 27 other film school cinematography students, shot roughly 30,000 feet of film of the invasion. How will the outside world see this footage? László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond agree to smuggle it out of the country being that they're in danger and need to flee their homeland anyway.
They come to Hollywood and go straight to the Cinematographer's office at which they're told to "Come back when you speak English!" Neither men spoke a word of English. They only had each other to rely on for inspiration as they take on every possible cinematography job they can find (Including one called "The Woman in the Invisible Bikini".... I'll have to Netflix that one).
The film continues on as they go from picking up garbage on the ground at parks to filming no-budget movies all they way to filming classics such as Easy Rider and Deliverance to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Say Anything.
All the while we witness the growing friendship between two men who became brothers and colleagues as they are praised in interviews from their previous colleagues.
This film is educational, inspirational, heartwarming and heartbreaking.
When the screening and Q&A were over, I approached Mr. Zsigmond and asked him, "Was it weird, being that your job is to film fictional subjects, was it weird to have him (Chrissanthis) follow you around with you being the real subject?"
"Absolutely, I didn't feel good, actually in front of the camera... Regularly I would not do this, but because of László, he passed away 2 years ago, we had to do something (in memory of him)."
Great story. Great film.