Santosh Sivan, ASC, ISC Honored with Pierre Angénieux Tribute Award

The Indian cinematographer and director was celebrated on May 24 during the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Tara Jenkins

Named after the pioneering optics manufacturer, the Pierre Angénieux Tribute Award annually celebrates lifelong achievements in international cinematography. Since 2013, Angénieux has been an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival and committed to honoring the work of directors of photography as integral parts to the artistic process.

Indian cinematographer and director Santosh Sivan, ASC, ISC is the 11th recipient of the prestigious Angénieux prize, following Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC (2013); Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC (2014); Roger A. Deakins, ASC, BSC (2015); Peter Suschitzky, ASC (2016); Christopher Doyle, HKSC (2017); Edward Lachman, ASC (2018); Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC (2019); Agnès Godard, AFC (2021) and Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (2023).

“You have to reflect your culture, where you grew up, things you experienced as a child firsthand. Then you start to think differently.”

Santosh Sivan, ASC, ISC

“It’s amazing,” Sivan told AC after being presented with the award. “I think most of the time it is American and European cinematographers who are acknowledged in this way. It’s an honor.”

Now 60, the filmmaker graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India in 1984, after which he went on to earn 12 National Film Awards, four of which are for cinematography, while working across India in Malayalam, Tamil, and Hindi cinema as both a cinematographer and director.

Sivan was a founding member of the Indian Society of Cinematographers (ISC), as well as the first Indian member of the ASC. As a child of 10, he used to read issues of American Cinematographer that his father, a photographer, received, and he started writing his name as “Santosh Sivan, ASC.” His father told him, “Now you have to deserve it.”

Sivan has found inspiration in his roots over the course of his career, and is effusive about how many more stories there are for him to tell: “To shoot in India, one lifetime isn’t enough. I want to film all my childhood memories. I want to be here. I’ve made a lot of very big films, but I want to make documentaries and smaller films as well. I like to start a film by thinking of someone I love who I want to dedicate the film to — it’s like a prayer. It keeps me honest and pure in my filmmaking.

“You have to reflect your culture, where you grew up, things you experienced as a child firsthand. Then you start to think differently. You are creating when you are not imitating things. I can’t give something as a tribute to my mother if it is just an imitation.”

Looking back over his career so far, Sivan notes that his approach to cinematography has stayed organic and flexible, “I treat cinematography like music. Light and shadow is a melody. I want to find a good blend of it to suit the film. At the end of the day, your work should resonate with the audience. I feel as a cinematographer you have to grow both ways. You need to grow your roots into culture and where you come from and you also have to grow up into new areas.”

“As a part of this tribute, a lot of directors and actors have said a lot of things about me, and I have started to discover myself through what they have said. I think they over-exaggerate a little, but the truth is that a lot of films I have done are classics now. Even though I am surprised to get the award, other people who are cinematographers aren’t surprised. I am very happy to have that recognition from my peers. There is a lot of talent in India, and I would like to see more recognition for Indian cinematographers overall.”

In Cannes, Angénieux also honored the work of up-and-coming cinematographer Kadri Koop with their Special Encouragement Prize, established in 2018. Koop is an Estonian cinematographer and director known for her work on the graduate short film Spaceship, which earned a 2022 ASC Heritage Award nomination, as well as College Emmy nomination and Student Etudes Competition nomination at Camerimage. Koop’s feature On the Line: The Richard Williams Story premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

More information on the tribute to both Sivan and Koop is available via Angénieux’s social media.

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