The 50th annual New York Film Festival got underway on Sept. 28, marking the golden anniversary of the highly influential series, and the last hurrah for Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s program director Richard Peña, who is retiring after 25 years at the helm.
Peña, a die-hard New Yorker of Spanish and Puerto Rican descent who experienced his first NYFF at age 12, has been instrumental in furthering – and in some cases, launching — the careers of many great international filmmakers in the US, chief among them, Pedro Almodóvar.
For his last NYFF, Peña is going out with a bang: 50 films on the Main Slate lineup, a good mix of choice arthouse offerings, foreign language prize winners from Cannes and Berlin, and world premieres of big Hollywood movies, like Ang Lee’s big-screen adaptation of the best-seller Life of Pi, in addition to special retrospectives, sidebars and two special series: Cineastes/Cinema of Our Time and Men of Cinema: Pierre Riessent and the Cinema Mac Mahon. Two galas will honor Nicole Kidman and Peña on Oct. 3 and 10, respectively.
Even though he will continue his academic career at Columbia University, where he’s taught Film Studies since 2003 (he’s been teaching there since 1989, in one capacity or another), Peña is actually looking forward to relaxing and spending more time with his wife, Karen and their three children (24-year-old son Ari, and daughters Maya, 22, and Lita, 15). “There’s a general desire to slow down a bit,” the 59-year-old cinephile tells me. “It’s been a pretty adventurous 25 years.”
On the first day of the festival, Peña took time out to give me a call and talk about his tenure, where he sees filmmaking today, as well as what he considers to be great, classic Latin American cinema. Anyone who hasn’t seen his Top 5 Latin American Cinema Classics can easily do so on Netflix (I asked him to pick ‘accessible’ movies).
During our talk, I felt a little bit like a student in one of Peña’s classes at Columbia. I actually know a bunch of people who have had him as a professor and they have always raved about him.
Now I get why.