After dropping out of History, Costa attended Antonio Reis's classes at the Escola Superior de Cinema (Lisbon). His first film O sangue had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1989. Casa de lava premiered at Cannes in 1994 and received, among others, the Grand Prix at the Belfort Festival in 1995. Ossos received a Golden Osella at the Venice Film Festival in 1997. In Vanda’s Room won the France Culture Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the Yamagata Film Festival, 2001. Horse Money won the Leopard for Best Director at the Locarno Festival in 2014. His latest feature Vitalina Varela received the Golden Leopard and the Leopard for Best Actress at Locarno in 2019.
Costa’s work has been regularly shown in museums and cinemas around the world. He has lectured at Bloomington, Berkeley, and Harvard Universities, at the CalArts School for the Arts and at the Film Factory, a school founded by Béla Tarr, in Sarajevo. He is an associate professor at Zokei University in Tokyo. He exhibits at the Serralves Museum (Porto), the Tate Modern in London, the Hara Museum in Tokyo, the Ilmin Museum in Seoul, and Foto España in Madrid. He has worked with filmmaker Chantal Akerman at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam and at the Carpe Diem Gallery in Lisbon. With sculptor Rui Chafes, he was one of the guest artists at the 2013 Venice Art Biennale. Still in collaboration with Rui Chafes and photographer Paulo Nozolino, he exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2022.
From October 2022 to March 2023, he will have an exhibition dedicated to his work at the Virreina Centre in Barcelona, titled Canción de Pedro Costa (Pedro Costa’s Song).