Robert Gardner was Founding Director of the Film Study Center, and served as its Director from 1957 to 1997. An internationally renowned filmmaker and author whose works have entered the permanent canon of non-fiction filmmaking, his major films include Dead Birds (1964), a lyric account of the Dugum Dani, a Stone Age society at one time living an isolated existence in the Highlands of the former Netherlands New Guinea (Gardner was the leader of the Peabody Museum-sponsored expedition to study the Dani in 1961-62); Rivers of Sand (1974), a social commentary on the Hamar people of southwestern Ethiopia; and Forest of Bliss (1985), a cinematic essay on the ancient city of Varanasi, India, which explores the ceremonies, rituals, and industries associated with death and regeneration.
Octavio Paz has written in an essay on Rivers of Sand, "Gardner's camera scans with precision and feels with sympathy-the objectivity of an anthropologist, the fraternity of a poet." About Dead Birds Robert Lowell wrote, "When I walked away from watching Dead Birds I almost seemed to stagger inside myself. Today I am still jarred by it and still trying to understand the guilty significance of what it tells us about ourselves." On Forest of Bliss, Seamus Heaney has written that "When Ezra Pound commended the natural object as the adequate symbol, he might have been thinking about Forest of Bliss. It is hard to distinguish the beauty of this film's technical means from the strength of its subject matter, which is always a sure sign of achieved artistic purpose. Robert Gardner transmits the sensation of the deep and literate gaze, and does so with an intensity that passes from the documentary into the visionary."
Gardner's films have received numerous awards, including the Robert J. Flaherty Award for best nonfiction film (twice); the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Florence Film Festival (three times); and First Prizes at the Trento, USA Dallas, Melbourne, Nuoro, EarthWatch, Athens, and San Francisco film festivals. His films have been invited to Festivals throughout the world including Jerusalem, Bergen, London, Munich, Toronto, Montreal, Margaret Mead, Marseilles, Locarno, Chicago and Cinema du Réel.
Robert Gardner is the author of A Human Document (1965), Gardens of War (with Karl Heider, 1968), Making Forest of Bliss: Intention, Circumstance, and Chance in Nonfiction Film (with Ákös Öster, 2002),The Impulse to Preserve(2006), and Making Dead Birds: Chronicle of a Film (2007). He is also the subject of several books: Rituale von Leben und Tod: Robert Gardner und seine Filme, edited by R. Kapfer, W. Petermann, and R. Thoms (1989); Gardner, by Harry Tomicek (1991); Natural Rhythms: The Indigenous Life of Robert Gardner, by Thomas Cooper (1996); and The Cinema of Robert Gardner, edited by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor (2008).
In the 1970s Gardner produced and hosted Screening Room, a series of more than one hundred 90-minute programs on independent and experimental filmmaking. The series, considered an invaluable historical record of modern cinema, has been transferred to digital format, for archival preservation by the Museum of Film and Broadcasting in New York City.
Robert Gardner received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.