S.F. film pioneer Graham Leggat dies at 51

Exec transformed San Francisco Film Society

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

“For nearly six exciting and transformative years, Graham Leggat led the San Francisco Film Society with irrepressible determination, dash and design,” said Pat McBaine, president of the Film Society’s board of directors. “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.”

Leggat was appointed executive director of the Film Society in 2005. During his five years, the staff grew from 11 to 35 and the operating budget was expanded from $2 million to $6 million and was balanced each year.

He began working in a temporary job at the New York Film Festival in 1994, followed by executive positions at the American Museum of the Moving Image, the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Leggat 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 was the associate publisher of Film Comment magazine, contributing editor for Filmmaker magazine and columnist for the New York Daily News.

At the 2009 International Film Festival Summit, Leggat received the Director Excellence Award, presented to the film festival director who has made considerable contributions and a lasting impact on his/her film festival and independent film, with an emphasis on festival growth, new programs, organizational structure and overall vision.

In early 2011 the French consul general in San Francisco, Romain Serman, made Leggat a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, an honor awarded by the French Minister of Culture, in recognition of his significant support of 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, partner Diana Chiawen Lee, former wife Ellen Hughes, mother of his daughters and former wife Lillian Heard, mother of his son.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Leggat’s memory may be made to the San Francisco Film Society. A memorial service, open to the public, is planned for late September.

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