Like many of his generation, Peter Gessner came to San Francisco after the summer of love to reinvent himself. Having grown up in New York, graduated from Swarthmore, and studied at the Yale Drama School, he fell in love with the cool gray city that produced Dashiell Hammett. His decision to become a private investigator was inspired by Hammett’s stories and his acquaintance with a new breed of private detectives who emerged in the 70’s: Hal Lipset and Sandra Sutherland, among others.
Gessner’s road to his chosen profession was circuitous. Before he came to California he’d been an independent filmmaker, winning awards for films ranging in topics from the Vietnam War to a Venezuelan guerilla movement to insurgent black auto workers in Detroit. He has also written several screenplays and was a visiting Professor of Cinema at SF State University.
After a year long hiatus from filmmaking, during which he drove a cab in San Francisco, he landed an apprenticeship with a local investigator who had trained with some of the best. Soon he was working for some of the prominent PI’s in the City. In a few years’ time he had his own PI license. His cases have included capital homicide, wrongful death, police misconduct, and sexual harassment. For all the apparent danger in these cases, he does not own a gun.
Peter has known OLLI @Berkeley’s director Susan Hoffman from his days at SF State. He wanted to get his hand back into teaching and approached Susan about doing a class on Film Noir. He and retired PI Susan Sutherland will be team teaching this class which will focus on films about WW II in Italy by Rossellini, BBC’s films based on Le Carre’s work about the Cold War, another recent BBC series called MI5, The Third Man, and The Manchurian Candidate. He realizes that he won’t have time to show all these movies, and plans to request his students watch the films at home, then he will show clips for discussion.
His purpose for and focus of the class will be to take a new look at this popular genre and what it says about our society, politics, and current world events. He wants his students to understand how these issues reflect back to us in an immediate way and through the eyes of the filmmaker. He looks forward to the insights and experience that his OLLI students will bring to the class.
“The Big Hello and the Long Goodbye” is Peter’s debut novel, the first in a series involving a San Francisco private eye named Walker.