On the death of Graham Leggat

Dear Friend of the Film Society,

It is with deep sadness that we announce that Graham Leggat, beloved executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, died at his San Francisco home on August 25, 2011, 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. 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. 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 appointed executive director of the Film Society on October 15, 2005. He immediately architected a strategic plan that enhanced the Film Society’s reputation with both filmmakers and audiences, and produced remarkable results. In the five years that he was executive director the staff grew from 11 to 35. The board of directors nearly doubled, from 12 to 22. The operating budget expanded from $2 million to $6 million and was balanced each year. Contributed income increased from $1 million to $3 million. Membership rose 98 percent, ticket sales rose 62 percent and receipts for Film Society Awards Night, the organization’s largest annual fundraising event, rose 42 percent. The San Francisco Film Society was transformed from a two-week-a-year film festival producer into a year-round cultural institution with an increasingly national impact, providing programs and services in three areas of activity: exhibition, education and filmmaker services. An article in the San Francisco Examiner in October 2010 noted that the Film Society “has made a transformation worthy of an adventure movie.”

Under Leggat’s leadership, the Film Society expanded year-round programming and now presents a robust Fall Season of seven focused festivals including Hong Kong Cinema, Taiwan Film Days, the NY/SF International Children’s Film Festival, French Cinema Now, Cinema by the Bay, the San Francisco International Animation Festival and New Italian Cinema.

Earlier this year, Leggat finalized a long-sought goal when the Film Society announced a historic lease-signing that will enable the organization to offer its acclaimed exhibition, education and filmmaker services programs and events on a daily year-round basis for the first time in the organization’s storied 54-year history. On September 1, San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema will open its doors in the supremely stylish state-of-the art 143-seat theater located in the ultra-contemporary New People building at 1746 Post Street (Webster/Buchanan) in Japantown.

The Film Society now has a year-round education department that offers media literacy programs to over 10,000 K-12 students, college and university programs to help students transition into the professional filmmaking arena and more than 120 classes and workshops per year in film craft and film studies for filmmakers, filmgoers and cinephiles of all ages and skill levels.

Leggat spearheaded the signing of an agreement with Film Arts Foundation in 2008 that led to the creation of the Film Society’s Filmmaker Services, which offers a full suite of programs and activities designed to foster creativity and further the careers of independent filmmakers. Filmmaker Services oversees one of the largest film grant programs in the country and through 2013 will have dispersed more than $3.5 million to narrative and documentary filmmakers. In addition, through a partnership with the San Francisco Film Commission, production office space has been provided for dozens of local filmmakers, while several hundred more have benefited from a vibrant fiscal sponsorship program, which provides production and development assistance.

Leggat’s vision also encompassed publishing the nation’s only regional online daily film magazine, SF360.org, founded in 2006 in partnership with indieWIRE. The publication now features more than 1,000 pieces of original arts journalism and serves a broad audience of filmmakers, industry professionals and aficionados from around the world who visit the site, subscribe to the weekly newsletters and participate in the growing SF360 community. A variety of stories on Leggat will be appearing on the site in the coming days; reader thoughts and tributes can be posted in comments at SF360.org.

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 and 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. Condolences should be sent to inmemoryofgraham@sffs.org or c/o Jessica Anthony, SFFS, 39 Mesa Street, Suite 110, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129.

A memorial service, open to the public, is planned for late September. A farewell letter that he wrote in July 2011 announcing his departure from the Film Society can be read at sffs.org.

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