When Jameson Goldner, a film professor at San Francisco State University, retires at the end of the semester in early June, he will do so knowing that his passion for film, commitment to his students, and generous spirit will resonate for many years — even more than the 52 he has been at SFSU.
Goldner, who helped established the university’s Department of Cinema, was officially honored by his colleagues and students on May 19 during the school’s annual Film Finals event at San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.
“The recognition is overwhelming,” said Goldner, 77, who goes by Jim.
He shouldn’t be surprised. Goldner has mentored legions of students, including more than a handful of award-winning filmmakers.
“Our paths crossed when I was wandering aimlessly in the thicket of higher education,” said former student and renowned documentarian Emiko Omari, whose many films include the acclaimed “Rabbit in the Moon,” about her family’s confinement in a U.S. internment camp during World War II.
“He set me on a journey that became my life’s work: making films. In all of my endeavors, he has always been one of my silent partners.”
Omari and many others credit Goldner for his tireless devotion and hands-on approach. Over the years, as he was building the cinema department — now ranked among the top 25 in the country — he taught classes in every aspect of filmmaking, from scriptwriting and directing, to sound and lighting production.
“I did everything,” said Goldner, of San Francisco. “Most of my creative life has been spent with students.”
But not all. His creative output has been prodigious. Among his 100-plus films is the well-received documentary “When I Was 14: A Survivor Remembers.” The film recounts the wartime experiences of Holocaust survivor Gloria Hollander Lyon of San Francisco, who endured Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and other camps — six in all. The movie screened at the 1996 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and was awarded Best Documentary at the 2001 California Independent Film Festival. It has aired on the Sundance Channel, and was part of the curriculum in Goldner’s Film and the Holocaust class at SFSU.
Jewish themes and social issues have played prominent roles in many of Goldner’s films. One of his favorites, he said, is his documentary of the late Helen Burke, an artist who created the Holocaust memorial at the former Camp Swig in Saratoga.
Goldner has spent considerable time in Israel, where he taught and produced a number of films. “I can’t separate Israel from my Jewish identity,” he said. “It became my second home.”
The grandson of a rabbi, Goldner grew up in Burbank, in close proximity to the studio trifecta: Universal, Warner Brothers and Disney. His mother, a pianist and elementary school teacher, encouraged his creative proclivities.
“I knew from the age of 9 that I wanted to work in movies,” he said. Thanks to a neighbor, the head of wardrobe at one of the studios, Goldner gained access to them.
Over time, he became a “studio brat,” a kid who hung out on and around the sets. He also wrote original scripts and began filming his stories.
After he saved up his earnings from his job as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp, Goldner bought his first camera, a Bolex. He fondly recalls filming the silkworms in his mother’s classroom.
He went on to film school at UCLA, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s in fine arts, and studied alongside Francis Ford Coppola and other soon-to-be luminaries.
But he was never particularly dazzled by Hollywood’s glitter. His heart has always been in nurturing students’ creative souls.
He found his calling in teaching.
“When I first came to the cinema department in 2011, I saw that Jim had been teaching since the early 1960s,” said Daniel Bernardi, interim dean of SFSU’s College of Liberal and Creative Arts. “I wondered why he was still teaching.
“That was answered within the first few weeks of my first semester. He is an inspiring, beloved teacher.”
Students, Bernardi said, “loved his production courses because they saw in Jim an educator who set a high creative bar, emphasized their individual artist vision, and listened to them with thought and care.”
To encourage budding talent, Goldner established the Jim Goldner Scholarship at SFSU in 2011. Through this, he will continue to touch the creative lives of cinema department students.