Recently retired SF State film professor recalls era when student filmmaking was controversial

Courtesy of San Francisco StateProfessor Jameson Goldner kneels down as he holds a light meter during rehearsals for the play "Mr. Dandyweather's Birthday" at San Francisco State University in 1963. Acclaimed actor Jeffrey Tambor

When professor Jameson Goldner began teaching cinema at San Francisco State University in 1963, allowing students to personally express themselves in films was not only frowned upon, it was downright dicey.

In fact, Goldner recalled a particularly controversial film created by students that nearly led to future works being sanctioned by the head of the Radio and Television Department. The movie in question depicted Jesus Christ coming off the cross and having an affair with Santa Claus.

Today, Goldner is known as the “heart and soul” of the cinema department at SFSU, from which Goldner retired last fall after more than five decades of teaching. But back in the 1960s, Goldner pushed the limits of film.

“Our emphasis was really on personal expression, and some of our films were pretty risky,” said Goldner, 77.

When Goldner was hired to teach film, the class was a subset of the more “conservative” Radio and Television Department, he explained. Studying film was accepted within the academic realm, but making films was not highly regarded and the areas of study regularly clashed with each other.

“Tensions were very high between various parts of the department, particularly film against broadcasting,” Goldner said.

Goldner ultimately helped the cinema department gain independence at SFSU in the late 1960s, encouraging students to create films that previously had not been celebrated on the campus. One showed people using drugs, and another depicted a man shooting himself in the foot to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War.

“Some of the films pushed some of the conventions a little bit further than some people would have liked,” Goldner recalled with a fond chuckle. But students flocked to his classes, which Goldner continued teaching for the past five decades until last fall, when he wrapped up his career as a professor with a final course that Goldner called Film and the Director.

The class explored Goldner’s favorite films, including his personal connections to them, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation.” Goldner studied at UCLA with Coppola in the early 1960s, back when Goldner called him Frank. “From Day 1 to the day he retired, he was one of the most popular professors because he was thoughtful and caring,” said Daniel Bernardi, interim dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts.

Goldner is credited with helping SFSU become one of the top film schools in the U.S., graduating numerous Academy Award winners and nominees. A filmmaker himself, Goldner’s 100-plus films include the Holocaust memoir “When I Was 14: A Survivor Remembers,” which won best documentary at the 2001 California Independent Film Festival.

Goldner will be honored Tuesday at the Cinema Department’s annual Film Finals event — which was created during Goldner’s first year at SFSU, in 1963 — at the Sundance Kabuki Theater in Japantown.

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