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Richard Peña biography

Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Chairman of the Selection Committee of the New York Film Festival, is a film curator and scholar whose wide-ranging knowledge of the medium includes a special expertise and interest in Latin American, Asian, and Arab cinemas.

Program Director of the Film Society and Festival Selection Committee Chair since 1988, Mr. Peña has brought a visionary zeal and enthusiasm and a remarkable variety of programs both to the Festival and to the Walter Reade Theater, the Film Society's acclaimed year-round movie house. These latter have ranged from surveys of international cinemas to retrospectives of both renowned and neglected film artists and a focus on new American independent films. Throughout his career, Mr. Peña has made a substantial contribution to world cinema, promoting film exchanges and exploring cross-cultural influences through exciting and adventurous programming.

Film series Mr. Peña has brought to New York audiences have included a number of continuing series devoted to contemporary Latin American and Spanish Cinema, including the popular Latin Beat and Spanish Cinema Now series; ongoing explorations of contemporary African and French films; and annual Jewish Film and Human Rights Watch film festivals; as well as groundbreaking individual series such as a Michelangelo Antonioni retrospective, China's New Wave: The Fifth Generation Filmmakers, a Sacha Guitry retrospective, a retrospective of Abbas Kiarostami, a series on new Iranian cinema, a landmark survey of Polish cinema, major retrospectives of films from Cuba and Argentina, and Independents Night, a monthly series devoted to new American independent films.

Before coming to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Mr. Peña was director of the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where his responsibilities included programming, writing and editing, and general administration. At the Film Center he organized, among many other things, Images In the Shadows, an influential 50-film survey of Spanish cinema.

Born in New York of Spanish and Puerto Rican parents, Mr. Peña attended St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts, and Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1976 with an A.B. Cum Laude in Latin American history and literature. From 1976 to 1978, he was a Teaching Fellow in General Education at Harvard, teaching the History of Film and Latin American Cinema. In 1978, he received his M.S. in architecture from M.I.T.


Mr. Peña's interest in film was already apparent when as a 12-year-old cineaste he began attending the New York Film Festival on a regular basis, never imagining that he would one day be its driving force. After spending a year in Brazil, between his junior and senior year of college, where he worked part-time at the cinèmatheque in Rio de Janeiro, he began to consider film as a serious pursuit and career goal. After graduating from M.I.T., he taught courses in Film Noir and Latin American cinema at the University of California-Berkeley.

In 1979, he returned to New York to be Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at City University of New York, College of Staten Island. From 1980 to 1988, he was at the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, first as assistant director, then as director. From 1985 to 1986, he was a visiting lecturer in film history at Harvard and acting curator at the Harvard Film Archive. His numerous writings include essays on film directors Raul Ruiz and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. He is currently writing a book on Portuguese master director Manoel de Oliveira for Indiana University Press

In 1989, for the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, he organized an extensive touring program on American independent cinema. He has lectured both nationally and internationally on film related topics, and has served on juries at film festivals in Buenos Aires, Locarno, Jerusalem, and Berlin. Currently, Mr. Peña is Assistant Professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where he specializes in courses on Latin American, Asian, Arab, and African cinema.

The Walter Reade Theater, which opened in 1991, reflects his strong international, comparative view of cinema. In addition to programming the Walter Reade Theater, and helping to select films for the New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films, presented in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Peña is a Board Member of the New York Council for the Humanities and the Independent Feature Project. He is also the host of a nationally broadcast monthly half-hour television series that the Film Society produces with Sundance Channel, Conversations in World Cinema from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Mr. Peña is married to Karen Soren, a physician, and they have a son, Ari, born in March 1988, and daughters Maya, born September 1990, and Lita, born August 1998.





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