Philip Kaufman grew up on the north side of Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago. After a year at Harvard Law School, he returned to the University of Chicago to begin a Master’s degree program in history.
In 1960, he relocated his family to the San Francisco Bay area. A year later the Kaufman family headed for Europe where he taught math at an American school. While working on a novel, Kaufman found himself enthralled by the New Wave of filmmaking breaking over the continent.
Returning to Chicago in 1962, determined to make a film, Kaufman met Anais Nin who was speaking at the University of Chicago. He spent the day with her, telling her the scenario of the film he was contemplating, and Nin encouraged him to become a filmmaker. In 1963 he filmed the mystical comedy, Goldstein which he co-wrote and directed with a friend. Starring members of the Second City comedy troupe and shot on a shoestring budget, the picture won the Prix de la Nouvelle Critique at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. In 1965 Kaufman wrote and directed Fearless Frank (aka Frank’s Greatest Adventure), a comic book satire starring Jon Voight in his film debut.
In 1966, the Kaufmans moved back to San Francisco, but soon moved to Los Angeles where Kaufman was put under contract to Universal. There he wrote and directed the western The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, starring Robert Duvall and Cliff Robertson, in 1971.
In 1973, he went to the Northwest Territories of Canada to direct the arctic adventure The White Dawn (Paramount). The film starred Timothy Bottoms, Warren Oates and Louis Gossett, Jr.
Settling permanently in San Francisco, he developed the original story for Raiders of the Lost Ark with George Lucas and wrote the screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales.
In 1977, Kaufman directed Invasion of the Body Snatchers (starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams) which was shot in San Francisco and won a number of science fiction awards.
In 1979, after his son Peter found Richard Price’s novel The Wanderers, Kaufman and his wife, Rose, wrote a screenplay based on the book, which Kaufman directed.
In 1983 Kaufman made The Right Stuff (based on Tom Wolfe’s best-selling book). The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture and won 4. In addition, Kaufman received both Writers Guild and Directors Guild nominations. In 2013, The Right Stuff was named for induction into the National Film Registry.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988, adapted from Milan Kundera’s novel), starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche. It received 2 Academy Award nominations, including Best Screenplay by Kaufman and Jean-Claude Carriere. It won a BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay and also received a Writers Guild nomination. The film won the Best Picture Award of the National Society of Film Critics and Kaufman was named Best Director. He received the international Orson Welles Award for Best Filmmaker in 1989.
In 1990 Kaufman directed Henry & June, an adaptation of Anais Nin’s memoir of Henry Miller and his wife June. Filmed in Paris, it starred Fred Ward, Uma Thurman and Maria de Medeiros, was written by Philip and Rose Kaufman and produced by Peter Kaufman. The film was nominated for one Academy Award.
Rising Sun (1993) starred Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel and Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa. Kaufman directed and co-wrote the screenplay, based on the bestseller by Michael Crichton.
Quills (adapted from Doug Wright’s Obie Award-wining play) was filmed in London and released in 2000. A tale about the Marquis de Sade it starred Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix. Quills was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Geoffrey Rush for Best Actor.
Twisted (2004), was filmed entirely in San Francisco and starred Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia.
Hemingway & Gellhorn had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. Set against many war zones (once again shot entirely in the San Francisco Bay Area), the film explores the passionate and turbulent love affair between Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and his third wife, the war correspondant, Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman). Hemingway & Gellhorn was nominated for 15 Emmy Awards.
Philip Kaufman has been honored with many tributes and retrospectives including: the Cannes Film Festival Master Class, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Sundance Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Institut Lumiere in France, the American Film Institute, the Cambridge, England Film Festival, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Philadelphia Film Festival, the Wine Country Film Festival, the Taos Talking Picture Festival, Cinequest, the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Chicago International Film Festival, the Olympia Film Festival, the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Midnight Sun Film Festival, Finland.
He is the subject of Columbia Professor Annette Insdorf’s new book, “Philip Kaufman”.