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Friday, August 26, 2011

Former S.F. Film Society Director Graham Leggat Led Organization's Dramatic Growth

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 10:45 AM

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Graham Leggat, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, died last night after an 18-month battle with cancer at age 51, according to a statement from the organization.

Since Leggat became executive director in 2005, the Film Society has seen unprecedented growth. Its staff tripled, the operating budget expanded from $2 million to $6 million, and the membership rose 98 percent. Under his tenure, the Society also went from being a two-week-a-year film festival producer to a year-round institution.

"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. It's no accident or coincidence that those years have also been the best years in the life of the film society," Pat McBaine, president of the film society's board of directors, said in the statement.

Sadly, Leggat will not get to see the opening of the San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, which will welcome the public to a new 143-seat theater in Japantown next Friday, Sept. 2.

While Leggat has certainly left the Film Society with a bright future, his presence will be sorely missed. Born in Surrey, England, to Scottish parents, Leggat was raised in England and Scotland. His father was a soccer player and later worked in TV. But Leggat had no aspirations to play soccer. Instead, he headed to California after discovering the Beat writers. He studied at Stanford University, dropping out twice to become a Buddhist priest before returning and graduating in 1987. He then studied at Syracuse University under author Tobias Wolff.

Leggat started as a journalist, then discovered the world of film when he found a job at Cornell Cinema. He went on to work for the New York Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He was also the associate publisher of Film Comment magazine, a contributing editor for Filmmaker magazine, and a columnist for the New York Daily News, before moving back to San Francisco.

Leggat stepped down from his position as executive director last month for health reasons, and deputy director Steven Jenkins has taken over on an interim basis. A public memorial service is planned for late September.

"His vision, leadership, passion, work ethic, tenacity, imagination and daring along with his colorful language and wicked Scottish sense of humor have indelibly marked our organization with a valuable legacy and left it in the best shape -- artistically, organizationally and financially -- in its 54-year history," McBaine said.

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Caroline Chen

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