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by Brian Brooks
July 4, 2011 7:36 AM
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Graham Leggat Steps Down as Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society

Graham Leggat at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Brian Brooks.

Graham Leggat has stepped down as executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, effectively immediately.

In a letter circled to colleagues Monday, Leggat cited health issues for his departure, saying, "As you know, I have relished my leadership role in this dynamic, beloved organization. Unfortunately, health issues make it impossible for me to continue to serve effectively."

Leggat said that leadership will transfer to the SFFS staff lead by Deputy Director Steven Jenkins and the organization's Board of Directors.

Graham Leggat was appointed executive director of the organization, which hosts year-round programming including the annual San Francisco International Film Festival, the oldest in North America. Prior to his appointment, he served as director of communications at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

While serving as the venerable institution's executive director., he has spearheaded a number of new initiatives, including the most recent announcement that it would operate a theater in San Francisco's Japantown neighborhood, giving the 54-year-old organization a beachhead in which it could offer its exhibition, education and filmmaker services programs year-round.

Below is the letter Graham Leggat sent to colleagues, including iW, about his departure:

I am writing to share with you news of my immediate departure from the San Francisco Film Society, where it has been my unalloyed pleasure and honor to serve as Executive Director since October 2005. As you know, I have relished my leadership role in this dynamic, beloved organization. Unfortunately, health issues make it impossible for me to continue to serve effectively, and I am stepping down to leave the organization in the capable hands of a remarkably devoted staff and Board of Directors.

Since my arrival at the Film Society almost six years ago, I and my staff have given our all to transform the organization into a year-round engine of exhibition, education and filmmaker services, with public programming offered daily for the enrichment and celebration of film culture in all its glorious forms.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

The recent announcement of the September launch of the San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema marks a huge milestone in our 54-year history: for the first time we have a year-round home in which to present an increasingly diverse and vital range of programs. With this crucial addition, the Film Society rightfully takes its place as one of the top film organizations in North America, matched in scope, activity and ambition only by bigger institutions in the much larger markets of New York and Los Angeles.

As I bid the Film Society farewell, I am fully confident that the vision we have forged together of a peerless and vibrant film culture will continue to thrive and inspire. I extend my deeply felt thanks for your support of these efforts, and for making me feel so supported and encouraged. Not only have I loved this job but, thanks to all of you, I have felt like this job has loved me in return (something I've never heard anyone even say before, let alone experience).

In these past six years the Film Society has risen to new, previously unimaginable heights, and I am truly thrilled by the conviction that the organization--now at an all-time high programmatically, financially and as an agent of civic and cultural change--has its very best years still to come.

I am counting on your continued belief in the Film Society through the coming months, as my great friend and colleague Deputy Director Steven Jenkins steps up as Acting Executive Director and he, the Board and the staff consider long-term leadership strategies. Together, this supremely talented and dedicated team will ensure that the organization not only prevails through this transition but triumphs.

The Film Society has dazzling plans across the board for 2011-12, with flagship activities like the upcoming Fall Season of festivals and special events, extraordinary grantmaking award announcements and an increasingly comprehensive set of education programs. These many programs will be energized, beginning in September, by the powerful drumbeat of daily screenings and events at the Film Society | New People Cinema.

Let's look ahead together, then, to a bright future, as I offer my sincerest gratitude once again for the amazing opportunities that the Film Society and all of you have given me.

It has been brilliant, friends, and I've loved every minute of it.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Leggat

[Editor's Note: iW's thoughts are with Graham and his family and friends, wishing him an immediate and full recovery.]

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6 Comments

  • joanna ney | July 6, 2011 1:30 AMReply

    Dear Graham:

    I am sorry to hear that you are leaving the SF Film Society where I know you have done a remarkable and transformative job as executive director. I know that your visionary leadership assures you a lasting legacy and that your ideas and initiatives will continue to inspire those who take up the mantle.

    In the meantime, I am thinking of you with affection and concern at this challenging time of your life.

  • rob epstein | July 5, 2011 8:27 AMReply

    Graham Leggat's vision, passion, intelligence, good humor--and great energy-- have all been part of the enormous contribution he has made to the city of San Francisco, where I live, and to the international film community at large.

    Our thoughts and our hearts are with him.

  • Gary Meyer | July 4, 2011 10:22 AMReply

    I started attending the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1963 while in high school and ever since it has been a wonderful place in my own backyard to explore the world of cinema and make many discoveries. I have known and collaborated with most of the festival directors and staff over these years.

    When Graham arrived in 2005 he impressed the bay area film community as he reached out to meet filmmakers, exhibitors, other local festivals, the media and audiences to share his ideas of what the Festival and San Francisco Film Society might be in the future, while keeping the utmost respect for the foundation built in the past. His combined enthusiasm, knowledge of film and striking vision was almost too much to believe they could all happen. But as he led his team forward, the list of projects have become reality in a more timely fashion than most imagined possible.

    Film lovers' and filmmakers' lives are much richer for what has been accomplished in these past six years and we thank Graham for his belief and guidance to reach new heights.

    Now it is time for Graham to concentrate on his own well-being and enjoy the fruits of his labor knowing that he is leaving a strong team to carry on their important work.

  • Christian | July 4, 2011 9:12 AMReply

    Graham is truly one of the good ones. A persuasive, gifted leader and a great example to all. Get well soon, Graham!

  • Sharon J Kahn | July 4, 2011 9:11 AMReply

    Graham, healing thoughts and warmest wishes from one member of your New York fan club.

  • Tom | July 4, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    Get well soon, Graham. SFFS will be losing a wonderful leader. My best wishes to you.