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Lesli Klainberg ’85

Leslie Klainberg ’85 is the Executive Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and she is also an award-winning producer and director whose documentaries have screened at film festivals such as Berlin, Sundance, Outfest and Frameline, and have been broadcast on networks including Cinemax, AMC, A&E, The Independent Film Channel (IFC), WE and PBS.

Prior to her current role as Executive Director, Klainberg served as FSLC’s Managing Director and the producer of the New York Film Festival. From 2008 through 2011, she served as Executive Director of NewFest, the NYC LGBT Film Festival.

Klainberg recounts why she chose to attend Purchase. “I grew up in New York and went to the High School of Music and Art where I became turned on to film. I knew I wanted to study film, or see if I wanted to study film, and Purchase had a wonderful conservatory program. The film program was exactly what I needed; it was a very rigorous and very in-depth program that looked at film as an art and looked at theory and criticism in a serious way. It prepared us to look at film as filmmakers and be open to different crafts. You could really be a filmmaker and try different things, and work on other people’s films.”

Klaiberg recalls that she learned the ability to critique, and acquire the language to talk, look, and analyze film from some of her influential Purchase professors, including Mimi Ashram, Dick Rogers and Tom Gunning, about whom she says “was the most inspiring from the very first class to the last. He more than anyone, gave us the right words to talk about film.”

Underscoring the importance of collaboration, Klaiberg said, “Film is a collaborative art and as a student at Purchase everyone was treated with respect, everyone had potential. One thing that I learned that made a huge difference – was to be with other people who are creative and give notes to one another and trust people and learning that skill of collaboration.”

After graduating from Purchase, Klainberg worked at New York’s Channel 13 as an intern, then a production assistant and worked her way up. She moved to Los Angeles and worked on films and film-related projects, returning to New York in 2000.

“Purchase prepared me to make a living as a filmmaker,” Klainberg says. “The proximity to the city was a big deal; that meant that people teaching us film worked in the industry and had a connection to the community in New York City. Purchase couldn’t be a better place for me to set me up and prepare me for work in the real world.”

Klainberg recalls a recent event where David Schwartz was recognized for his work. “It was a great honor to see David Schwartz being feted recently at the Museum of the Moving Image, where he served as chief curator. I remember David and Dean Bell (who also attended the celebration) and their tenacity and their friendship; they were upperclassmen to look up to, and now 30 years later to see David having a great career and all that he did for all of New York.”

“I always say, I’m very proud of my public education at a public art high school and public college, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to get that experience. I think the film program has produced amazing people who contributed in many different ways. I’m very proud of being a Purchase graduate. I really believe in that way of learning and that conservatory approach was exactly what I needed. They prepared me to be my best out of school.”

—Written by Susan Kouguell, Lecturer in Screenwriting