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The Making Of

Director/Producer James Chressanthis discusses his process and motivation for making NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: Laszlo & Vilmos and the thrill of assembling some of the great filmmakers to discuss the talent behind the camera.

Independent Lens: What impact do you hope this film will have?

James Chressanthis: Beyond capturing a special moment in cinema history, this film aspires to show the power of a life—in this case two lives—to overcome extraordinary obstacles and pursue a dream. To quote Vilmos Zsigmond in the film: “To live life lonely, alone, is not the answer; we have to help each other.” Through this story, I hope that young people see that as a path to their own futures.

IL: What led you to make this film?

JC: Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond are legendary in Hollywood. I was in Vilmos’s camera crew on The Witches of Eastwick in 1986 and first saw the two men together. I thought, “This is an amazing story.” The revelation of how they survived to nurture each other and change American cinema and world culture in the bargain was a story that demanded to be told to a wider audience.

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

JC: The sheer volume of cinematic achievement by both men is staggering. Between them they shot 140 movies and at least a dozen masterpieces. They affected the lives of thousands of fellow artists and students and millions of filmgoers. Laszlo Kovacs was ill during the production and summoned all his strength to tell his part of the story. He passed away July 22, 2007. This was a remarkable assembly of great actors, directors and cinematographers, discussing their work with depth outside the manufactured gloss of celebrity-culture entertainment.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

JC: They both knew me, but I was closer to Vilmos. He was my mentor in Hollywood and I had crewed and shot second unit for him. During the production, I got to know Laszlo and grew close to him. Because I am an accomplished cinematographer myself, they both felt the treatment of their art would be well handled.

IL: What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

JC: There are literally four hours of amazing material that will be in the extended DVD.

IL: Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

JC: There were a few: I was drawn to the story of their escape from the disaster of the Hungarian revolution and Laszlo’s subsequent return to get their girlfriends out. I also enjoyed seeing the artistic process of Laszlo and Jessica Lange while filming Frances. And I found the parallels between their life stories and the scenarios of Paper Moon and The Deer Hunter curious.

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

JC: Audiences worldwide have been deeply moved by this film. Vilmos and the Kovacs family, as well as the actors, cinematographers and directors they have worked with are all grateful that this film has finally been made. Karen Black (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces) says, “NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: Laszlo and Vilmos is a beautiful and extraordinary film, as extraordinary as the two gentlemen who have changed our film culture forever, as beautiful as some of the most wondrous footage ever seen. This movie will always be there to enlighten future filmmakers and filmgoers; an historic movie.”

IL: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

JC: PBS’s goal to present the most thought-provoking material makes public television the best audience for this film.

IL: What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

JC: My painting and mixed media photo montage work ground to a halt. Happily I have a solo exhibition in Athens in May 2010.

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