Alumni Spotlight - Goro Toshima - Class of 1984 - Award-winning Director and Cinematographer

Nancy Ward
Clairbourn alumnus Goro Toshima, Class of 1984, is an award winning director and cinematographer based in Los Angeles. His work on the renowned documentary "City of Gold" received rave reviews. 

We had a chance to talk to Goro on the phone and ask him about his experience at Clairbourn, how he became interested in documentary filmmaking and any advice he has for Clairbourn students and alumni.
When did you come to Clairbourn? 
I graduated in the Class of 1984, and I attended Clairbourn from 5th to 8th grade. 

What do you remember most about your time at Clairbourn? 

I remember my friends and the social aspects of my time at Clairbourn. That was a time when most kids start developing strong friendships and doing sleepovers, and you start having girlfriends. That’s really the age when you start to blossom socially. I had a lot of really good friends, and socially, I loved it. There were a lot of cool, good kids. I had one great teacher, the best one I ever had for my entire academic career, Vincent Nelson.
 
Every once in a while, I’ll Google him, and I think the last I heard, he moved to Hawaii and he’s teaching in Hawaii. He was the best part of my Clairbourn experience even more than the social part. I loved him because he was such a cool and inspiring teacher, and he was a very open minded, progressive guy in the early 80s. He was very political, and he had kids read the newspaper every day and we’d talk about current events. He had a strong sense of ethics and of social justice. When you’re that young, you’re still not aware of what’s going on outside of your little bubble, and he was always trying to open people‘s minds beyond the bubble. Plus, he focused on all the kids. He didn’t play favorites. He treated every single kid individually with a lot of attention and care. 

Looking back, he was a single guy in his 30s at the time, and when I was in 7th grade at Clairbourn, he adopted a kid who was six, seven, or eight years old. Here was a single man who adopted a kid on his own. That’s just so amazing, and so rare and unique. That’s the kind of guy he was. Just a great person. He was a strong individual and so caring. I loved him as a teacher. 

What activities at Clairbourn helped influence your career trajectory and cultivate your love of cinematography? 
At that point I was too young. Back then, I wasn’t doing any sort of film. I discovered that at college. I started taking pictures after receiving a camera from a relative. One of my uncles gave me a camera as a present at one point, and before that I’d never done photography. He gave me a camera, an early automatic camera, and you couldn’t take a bad picture with it and it was high quality. That was my first camera and it grew from there. That was junior year in college. 

Where and when did you develop your passion for documentaries? 
I went to college in Maine and that’s when I started taking a lot of pictures – pictures of my friends and my environment. In Maine, there’s so much to explore, walking around taking pictures of different environments, and a lot of people and communities. Then, I moved to New York, and explored being in different places and communities, and that was the start of being interested in documentary stuff. It was always gradual. I loved getting my camera and taking pictures of people, buildings, random stuff on the street, and anything bold and interesting. 

You were the cinematographer for the award winning Sundance film, "City of Gold." What was it like working on that and how did you come to work on the project? What was it like working with Jonathan Gold? 
I had gotten the job through a friend of mine. At that point, I had been working for a while. In my line of work, that’s how I get most of my jobs – through referrals from friends who work on projects. I did have an interest in Los Angeles and food, and I had read Jonathan Gold’s work, but I wouldn’t say that I was a super foodie. Working on the project opened my eyes to how he sees Los Angeles in terms of food. 

You received your Master’s Degree in Documentary Filmmaking from Stanford. What was that like? 
That was because prior to that, I’d been working for a production company, which made content in America for broadcast in Japan. It was focused on human interest stories. That’s when I realized I wanted to pursue more documentary film. And going to school, just seemed like the easiest, most logical way to get into documentary film. Stanford has a good program, so I researched it and applied and went. I loved it; it was amazing because all you do is make film. It was a rare opportunity to just focus on making films. It was an exciting time of my life to be making film and being surrounded by like-minded people, where everyone was tight and supportive of each other. 

What advice do you have for our Clairbourn students aspiring to become future directors and cinematographers? 
At this age, I would tell Clairbourn students to keep doing what you’re doing and do it for the love of it. Make lots of film. Make it with whichever camera you can get a hold of, work on projects, work with friends, and make fun and funny short films. Anybody can make a film these days. Maybe later you can start watching more movies – movies that might inform your taste and skill. At this age, just go make fun and crazy projects. 

The films or people that affected me the most are the artists who create deeply human portraits of people that I sympathize with or relate to. I discovered this after working on film for many years. Clairbourn students are at an age where they can try new things and make film. Take art classes, try photography, do ceramics, try to do as much as you can and have fun doing it. 

Tell us about your other projects, such as "Broken Doors" and "A Hard Straight." How do you choose your projects (is it based on subject interest?) and what is it like working on them? What were some challenges you faced and how did you deal with these challenges? What is most rewarding about doing these documentaries? 
For example, I’m starting to do research on an offshoot of the "City of Gold" film which is about these backyard taco makers all throughout Los Angeles in South L.A. and they open their backyard and they make tacos. It’s a community effort, and people in the community know that they make amazing tacos and that they’re only open on the weekends. 

You also run a production company. What is that like? 
The challenge is always to try to sustain it and keep it alive and to do interesting work. The work I do ranges from documentary to commercial to corporate work and it’s a mix of different stuff. So I would say it’s a challenge balancing it and being flexible and doing all sorts of different things. I also want meaning behind the work. 

Do you have any final words of advice for our students? 
The one thing at that age is just try everything; do as much as you can, try exploring. If you’re artistically inclined, do paintings, do photography, and just try everything. As I said before, when you’re ten, eleven, or twelve years of age, you’re doing it for the love of it, Kids are naturally creative people and they don’t have those kinds of boundaries or expectations that you set for yourself when you’re an adult. When you’re that age, you’re free to do whatever comes to your head, and you’re brave in that way. And so, I would encourage kids to do what they want to do and have fun doing it. 
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