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Graham Leggat, Executive Director of San Francisco Film Society, Dies at 51

Graham Leggat, Executive Director of San Francisco Film Society, Dies at 51

Graham Leggat, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, died yesterday after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 51.

He was an extraordinarily effective leader. Under his nearly six-year watch at the SFFS, the operating budget expanded from $2 million to $6 million and was balanced each year; membership rose 98 percent; ticket sales rose 62 percent; and the board of directors nearly doubled, from 12 to 22.

He stepped down from his role at SFFS July 4, citing health issues.

[Go here to read the director of digital strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and co-founder of indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez’s thoughts on the passing of Leggat.]

During his time with the SFFS, Leggat also oversaw the publishing of the nation’s only regional online film magazine,, founded in 2006 in partnership with indieWIRE. The publication now boasts over 1,000 pieces of original arts journalism.

“Graham was fiercely proud and appreciative of his years at the Film Society and frequently referred to them as the best years of his life,” said Pat McBaine, president of the Film Society’s board of directors. “It’s no accident or coincidence that those years have also been the best years in the life of the Film Society. Our board and staff are deeply saddened by the loss of our leader, colleague and friend but inspired by his example and memory to carry on his work and build on his accomplishments and vision.”

Leggat was born March 12, 1960 in Epsom, Surrey from Scottish parents. His father was a renowned international soccer player. Following the end of his father’s playing career in the mid ’70s, Leggat and his family immigrated to Toronto, Canada. He attended college at Stanford University, where he edited the campus literary magazine and graduated in 1987 with a BA in modern English. He went on to earn an MA in English and creative writing from Syracuse University in 1989.

After his graduate studies, Leggat landed his first film job working for Cornell Cinema in Ithaca, NY as coordinator for the Central New York Programmers Group. A temporary job at the New York Film Festival in 1994 lead him to New York City. There, he went on to hold executive positions at the American Museum of Moving Image, the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Leggat also served on the boards of Media Alliance and the Association of Independent Film and Videomakers, was a programmer at the New York Video Festival and the Shorts International Film Festival and helped found the Gen Art Film Festival.

He continued writing by serving as the associate publisher of Film Comment magazine, contributing editor for Filmmaker magazine and columnist for the New York Daily News. In 2007, he published his first novel, “Song of a Dangerous Paradise.”

Leggat is the recipient of the 2009 International Film Festival Summit’s Director Excellence Award. In 2001, the French consul general in San Francisco made him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, in recognition of his support to cinema.

Leggat is survived by his parents, Graham and Marilyn of Niagara Falls, Canada; son William and daughters Vhary and Isabelle; sister Alexandra Leggat of Toronto; devoted partner Diana Chiawen Lee; former wife Ellen Hughes, mother of his daughters; and former wife Lillian Heard, mother of his son.

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Nicolas Rossier

Just learned that news today. He was a great guy and took chances with dangerous films!
Very sad. RIP.

Shannon O'Donoghue

Sad news. Of all the people I’ve met in a professional capacity, Graham was the one who made the most incredible first impression. He was wonderfully smart, exceedingly charming, had a wicked sense of humour, and simply exuded leadership. He had so much to teach. My condolences to his family and friends.

bob hawk

I first met Graham when we were both working the IFP/Kodak booth for American independents at the Berlinale. Besides his being a joy to be with, I was immediately impressed with his many talents and virtues — qualities that he had early on and never lost. He just honed and burnished them as he made his way through an impressive career track, culminating in his superb leadership of the San Francisco Film Society. (And as one who worked at S.F.’s Film Arts Foundation for a number of years, I was so appreciative of how swiftly and gracefully he executed the SFFS’s embrace of FAF’s membership and their needs when FAF went under.)

Diligence and grace were two of Graham’s biggest virtues. Super smart and a master at creative thinking, tender yet tough, discreet when called for yet delightfully bawdy when most needed, Graham was a true pal (one of his favorite terms of address). I will always treasure and be eternally thankful for the many kindnesses (and boosts) he gave me through the years.

Gone too soon, he will live on in the many hundreds of people that he inspired and blessed with his presence. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

Jeffrey Abramson

Graham was an inspired leader and warm soul. While most will laud his legacy for his incredible impact on the San Francisco Film Society . . . as one of the first program directors of the Gen Art Film Festival he ignited a spark that has continued to burn with passion, popularity and integrity for 15 years (and to think I was just a volunteer working the door back then). You are missed much already, Graham. ཞི་བདེ


Here’s an old Irish saying but today let’s say it’s Scottish: “Why Worry? There are only two things to worry about: either you are well or you are sick. If you are well, then there is nothing to worry about: but if you are sick; there are two things for you to worry about: either you will get well or you will die. If you get well, then there is nothing to worry about. If you die: then there are two things to worry about: either you go up or down. If you go up, then there is nothing to worry about. But if you go down you will be so busy shaking hands with old friends you won’t have time to worry.” Safe travels, Graham. You have nothing to worry about.

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