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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, SF360.org, 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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