I’ve always loved my girlfriends, but when you move to LA and they’re all in NYC, you appreciate them even more. Having a great professional life is nice, but I’ve always believed that it’s your life outside of work that really matters, the relationships you keep/nurture throughout. As we get older that gets harder to do, of course. Life gets in the way. You get married. You have kids. You move away. Work consumes you. But that’s how you come to define the meaning of true friendship – it’s there, year in, year out, through every season. This was on one of those perfect fall days in NYC, celebrating the 5th year wedding anniversary of one of my girls. From left: Naomi, Paola, Sarita and me.
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.
The 44-year-old Bronx native was known for managing the careers of, at one point or another, some of the most important figures in hip-hop (50 Cent, Diddy, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Missy Elliot — even Mariah Carey). As founder and CEO of Violator Management, he was responsible for some of the most groundbreaking deals in music, such as 50 Cent’s now-famous deal with Glaceau (which owns Vitamin Water), valued at over $100 million. He was also the man behind LL Cool J’s Gap commercial in the 90s, the one in which he’s seen wearing FUBU gear — a milestone, for sure.
As Jon Caramanica put it in the New York Times, Lighty was “an executive who distinguished himself by knocking down the often stiff wall that separated hip-hop culture from the mainstream, back when those worlds were far apart and still regarding each other warily.”
At the time of his death, he was still managing, among others, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes, as well as 17-year-old Diggy Simmons (the son of Run-D.M.C’s Run).
Lighty’s love for hip-hop goes all the way back to his days carrying records for the pioneering New York DJ Red Alert. Soon he’d be road managing the likes of Boogie Down Productions (DJ Scott La Rock, D-Nice, and KRS-One) and the Jungle Brothers. He even rapped on Black Sheep’s first album (back when he went by “Baby Chris”). The legendary Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen would eventually take notice of Lighty, and scoop him up to work for Rush Management and Def Jam, the most important label in hip-hop history.
Read the rest of this story here and listen in on my conversation with Jayson Rodriguez, Executive Editor of XXL and a friend/fellow VIBE alum, whom I called to discuss the loss and legacy of Chris Lighty.