Pierre Angénieux Tribute

A SPOTLIGHT ON SANTOSH SIVAN’S CAREER – Pierre Angénieux Tribute Laureate 2024


As an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival for the 11th year running, we are honoring cinematographic excellence with the Pierre Angénieux Tribute. This year, India and its iconic cinema take center stage, with Santosh Sivan (ISC, ASC) in the limelight.

A Journey of Artistic Excellence 
Santosh Sivan is a cinematic powerhouse hailing from Kerala, India, and he is renowned for his exceptional skills as a cinematographer, director, producer, and actor. His contributions to Malayalam, Tamil, and Hindi cinema have made him a true legend.
Born in 1964, Sivan’s early passion for visual arts was nurtured by his grandmother, who encouraged his sketching. His father, Sivasankaran Nai (Sivan), played a transformative role, introducing him to the magic of photography and film. By secondary school, he had directed his first film on Super 8.
After graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India in 1984, Sivan honed his skills in cinematography. He directed several documentaries in 1980, and he worked for the first time as a cinematographer for the film “Raakh” by Aditya Bhattacharya. Critics immediately praised his work, and he became one of the most renowned Indian cinematographers, working on the photography of more than forty films in the 90s, notably for well-known Indian directors such as Mani Ratnam, Priyadarshan, Ajayan, Shaji N. Karun, and later on, Gurinder Chadha. Internationally, he made his talents known as a director of photography through “The Mistress of Spices” by Paul Mayeda Berges.
Breaking New Ground and Earning International Recognition
His directorial debut happened in 1988 with the film “The Story of Tiblu,” a short black and white documentary for which he received his first National Award (the equivalent of an Academy Award in India). In 1996, he shot his first fiction film, “Halo,” which was a winner of the National Award for Best Film. In 1998, “The Terrorist,” his second film, was crowned with the National Award for Best Tamil Film. Presented at the Cairo International Film Festival, it won the Best Director Award and the Golden Pyramid for Best Film. Actor John Malkovich, who was part of the jury, loved the film so much that he decided to release it himself in the United States, instantly highlighting Santosh Sivan’s work internationally. In 2001, he directed his third film, “Asoka,” and won several awards for direction of photography.
Considering directing as a natural extension of cinematography, Santosh Sivan decided in 2008 to solely work on his own films, making a few exceptions, notably for Mani Ratnam’s films. In 2017, “Lies We Tell” by Mitu Misra gave him the opportunity to shoot with Gabriel Byrne and Harvey Keitel.
A Master of Cinematic Landscape and Emotion
Landscapes are essential characters in his films. The state of Kerala, where he grew up, with its vibrant colors and diverse cultural fabric, left a lifelong impression on Sivan and continues to be featured in his work today. He prefers to shoot during the golden hour and restricts the use of kino fills in his shots. Since his beginnings, the sun, a source of pure and natural light, has been Santosh Sivan’s strength. “Thalapathi” (1991) is an excellent example of this: he captured this light by “taming” the climatic conditions, whether it was rain, sun, snow, or clouds. He used spontaneity and incredible technical mastery to translate the essence of change through the seasons and time. 
The second area where his work stands out is the close-up. He studies the face like it is its own landscape, and this is where sketching helps; “If you start sketching someone, then you look into people with much more detail in them.” He finds those stunning expressions that bring out the right emotional impact. “Iruvar” (1997) and “Dil Se” (1998) drew immense praise for their cinematography because they merged Santosh Sivan’s love for landscapes and close-ups into a cohesive whole. 
"The visual language has always been very interesting because it made you travel, it gave you a license to see the whole world. The journey makes your experience."

Santosh Sivan

An Inspiration and Force of Nature
In 2014, Santosh Sivan was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India. It is a civilian award conferred in recognition of “distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity including the arts, education, industry, literature, science, acting, medicine, social service and public affairs.” Indeed, Sivan’s journey, marked by tireless passion and exceptional talent, stands as a testament to the power of artistic vision. His work has influenced countless filmmakers and captivated audiences, making him an unforgettable icon in the annals of cinema worldwide.
Masterclass and Pierre Angénieux Tribute at Cannes Film Festival 2024
Just like his predecessors Darius Khondji (AFC, ASC) and Barry Ackroyd (BSC), Santosh Sivan (ISC, ASC) will present an intimate Masterclass on the morning of Thursday, 23rd May, moderated by esteemed journalist Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter. This event will precede the grand homage to his work at the Pierre Angénieux Tribute on Friday, 24th May, at the Palais des Festivals. For the latest news, follow us on Instagram or subscribe to our newsletter.
Photo Courtesy of Santosh Sivan.  
Photo Credit: Toranj Kayvon 

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