Fontaine graduated with an MA in Moral Sciences from Cambridge University, and in 1962 he joined Granada Television as a researcher, going on to become one of the founders of Granada's World in Action series. He has made numerous films on African-American music and other closely related topics, including Beat This: A Hip-Hop History (1984) and Bombin' (1988). In all, he has made more than 40 documentaries. Among the wide range of subjects he has profiled in film are figures such as James Baldwin, Norman Mailer and Jean Shrimpton, as well as many musicians: Kathleen Battle, Betty Carter, John Cage, Johnny Rotten, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey and others.
By his wife, the African-American actress Pat Hartley (who appeared in several Andy Warhol films, as well as Rainbow Bridge and Absolute Beginners), Fontaine is the father of writer, music critic and editor Smokey Fontaine.
In 1993 Dick Fontaine started a film production course at New York's School of Visual Arts, and since 1995 he has run the prestigious Documentary Department at the postgraduate National Film and Television School (NFTS), where graduates he has worked with include Nick Broomfield, Kim Longinotto, as well as a younger generation of documentarists such as Simon Chambers, Sandhya Suri and George Amponsah.
- The Face On the Cover (1964)
- Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! (1964)
- Madam Six (1965)
- Temporary Person Passing Through (1965)
- Don't Mrs Worthington (1966)
- Tati in the Traffic (1966)
- Who's Crazy? (1966)
- Heroes (1967)
- Sound??? (1967)
- Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up! (1967)
- Who Is Sonny Rollins? (1968)
- Who Is Victor Vasarely? (1968)
- The Other Guys Are the Joke (1970)
- Double Pisces Scorpio Rising (1971)
- Death of a Revolutionary (1972)
- Who Killed Cock Robin? (1974)
- A Famous Soldier (1976)
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1980)
- Beat This! A Hip Hop-History (1984)
- Bombin' (1986)
- Art Blakey: The Jazz Messenger (1987)
- Cleo Sings Sondheim (1988)
- New York Law (1989)
- Betty Carter: New All the Time (1994)
- Beat This: a Hip Hop History screening at Saddlers Wells, www.britishhiphop.co.uk, , 12 April 2006. Accessed online 4 March 2007.
- "Interview with Dick Fontaine: Alan Whicker, Me and the Future of TV", Whicker's World Foundation, 8 January 2016.
- PAST: Black World TV: Rap & Hip-Hop, Blackworld, British Film Institute. Accessed online 4 March 2007.
- Dick Fontaine on Internet Movie Database Accessed online 4 March 2007.
- "Biography" at dickfontaine.com.
- Larry Getlen, "A Better Vibe", Wesleyan (Wesleyan University alumni magazine), Issue IV, 2006, 28–32, p. 28.