Former City College professor, Fresno Filmworks co-founder Jim Piper dies

Jim Piper
Jim Piper Fresno Filmworks

Jim Piper, a longtime Fresno City College professor and co-founder of Fresno Filmworks, died Friday at age 78.

Mr. Piper was run over by a truck May 3 while traveling on the sidewalk with a mobility scooter in northwest Fresno. The accident left him on life support. His wife, Carol Kloninger-Piper, decided to remove him from life support on Thursday after his organs began to fail.

Kloninger-Piper described her husband as dynamic. The Pasadena native came to Fresno in 1965 to teach English at Fresno City. When he discovered there was no film studies program, he created it.

Film was Mr. Piper’s hobby. He made short Super 8 films, complete with sound effects and music. Former colleagues called them experimental and avant garde.

“I’ve always been attracted to minimal things. Short stories rather than novels, quartets rather than symphonies,” he said in a 1988 Bee story.

Some won awards at amateur and independent film festivals, including two first place prizes and best of show at Palo Alto,and a 10 Best of the West award at San Diego.

Mr. Piper loved teaching. His wife said he wrote outlines for Fresno City College’s first filmmaking courses and taught them for more than 20 years using Super 8 equipment. When filmmaking went digital, he took a year off to research digital coursework around the state, then came back to revamp Fresno’s courses.

After retiring at 61, Mr. Piper continued teaching one class a semester and tutoring students in English until around 2010. His wife said he always encouraged young people.

“Many times, we would be out to dinner and students would come up to him and he wouldn’t remember their names but he would remember their faces. They would say, ‘Mr. Piper, you changed my life,’” she said.

Mr. Piper attended Pasadena Community College, University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University. He believed everyone should start their higher education at a community college for the affordability and support.

Mr. Piper was also instrumental in starting Fresno Filmworks, a volunteer-driven nonprofit source for independent films. He was on the founding 10-member board of art-film lovers who lamented the fact that Fresno did not have an art-film theater.

On a Friday night in 2002 when Fresno Filmworks screened its first movie, Mr. Piper manned the 16mm projector at Fresno Art Museum.

“He literally was the person who kicked off Filmworks by putting his hand on the film we saw,” said board president Jefferson Beavers.

Fresno Filmworks founding president and program director John Moses described Mr. Piper as a warm, friendly man with a great sense of humor. Moses took over for Mr. Piper teaching English and film at Fresno City.

Moses said Mr. Piper’s biggest contribution to Filmworks was his good taste in films. He enjoyed those very diverse and little seen, especially realist films.

“A lot of people have come to the theater and we often start talking about how they’ve learned to appreciate art films,” he said. “If they are of a certain age, so many of them connect back to having taken a class from Jim.”

Fresno Filmworks will honor Piper during its monthly film screening, Friday June 12, by offering handmade condolence cards to audience members who would like to pass their remembrances along to Piper’s family. Remembrances can also be emailed to, where they will be passed along to the family.

Jim Piper

Born: May 26, 1937

Died: June 5, 2015

Occupation: Retired Fresno City College professor, writer, filmmaker

Survivors: Wife Carol Kloninger-Piper; sons Chris and Greg

Services: 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 27, at the Redwood Glen area at Woodward Park. Reception follows at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave., Fresno