Stefan Sharff, filmmaker who started Columbia U.’s Ph.D. program in film studies, the division he chaired, and who made more than 100 documentaries, died of lymphatic cancer Monday May 12 in Lebanon, N.H. He was 83.
Although he didn’t himself have a doctorate, his passion for film led to the divisions creation.
He was born Stefan Leon Lerner in Lublin, Poland but assumed his mother’s maiden name. In 1939 he joined the Moscow Film School and at the end of World War II returned to Poland, where he helped liberate a prisoner of war camp. He was later given a diplomatic post in London representing Poland, but he quarreled with the country’s communist leadership and left for the United States in the early 1950s.
There he worked at the United Nations as chief of the newsreel division and started his own production company, where he produced and directed films for the United Nations.
In 1963 he began teaching at Columbia and served as chair of the film department 1970-1978, remaining with the school until 1993.
Many of his later docs were made for public television, including a series on important Supreme Court cases.
He is survived by wife Laura Foley, three daughters, three sons, two stepchildren and a granddaughter.