Graham Leggat looks toward the Left Coast from his office in New York before heading to the San Francisco Film Society in 2005.

Graham Leggat, 1960-2011

Susan Gerhard August 25, 2011

San Francisco Film Society’s executive director, remembered.

Graham Leggat (b. March 12, 1960), 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.

Today, as a tribute, we offer a snapshot of Leggat on the eve of his first San Francisco International Film Festival, on April 21, 2006, when one of his early Film Society ventures,, was seven weeks old and Leggat was six months into his new leadership role at SFFS. It was originally titled “Graham Leggat, SFFS Executive Director, Indexed,” and it hints at the spirit that would characterize Leggat’s tenure in the city. In the coming days, will offer a more extensive appreciation of Leggat’s contribution to San Francisco and SFFS.

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. In lieu of flowers, donations in Leggat’s memory may be made to the San Francisco Film Society. Condolences should be sent to 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.


Graham Leggat, Indexed
April 21, 2006

"I got a call out of the blue," Graham Leggat tells, explaining how he came to leave his job at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and travel to the left coast to head up a film festival in perceived crisis heading toward its 50th anniversary. On the other end of the phone line was San Francisco Film Society Board President Melanie Blum. "She was totally engaged, very candid, and intelligently sympathetic," says Leggat. "Anybody that good at buying and selling is someone you would want to work with."

He now considers his position at the helm of SF’s International a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break new ground. By the film festival’s 50th next April, Leggat hopes to deliver a historic event, one "that has more to do with truth and beauty and the importance of narrative in social exploration than you’ll hear in a month of Sundays from the usual sources." Until then, he wants to disperse the cloud of bad community relations that descended on the festival over the past few years with a 49th festival that reaches into every corner of the city, from the Mission’s Fire Station Training Tower, which hosts Dolissa Medina’s "Cartography of Ashes" tonight, to the Tenderloin’s Edinburgh Castle Pub, which hosts the Festival’s REMIX program on Monday., co-published by the SF Film Society and indieWIRE, got the stats on Leggat a few days before his first SF International was about to open.

Born: Outside London, to Scottish parents.

Most recently resided: Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Last time in Bay Area: 1987, finishing bachelor’s degree in Modern English/American lit and American studies at Stanford.

Places lived in the Bay Area: (from 1979-87) Stanford, Tassajara Mountain Center, Zen Center at Page and Laguna, and Stanford again.

Months in San Francisco this time: 6.

Favorite films: The Leopard, Blade Runner, Miller’s Crossing, The Tin Drum, The 400 Blows, Alien, Cold Water, Talk to Her, The Royal Tenenbaums, In the Mood for Love, 2046 and hundreds more.

Favorite books: The Leopard, Black Hawk Down, Platform, The Sun Also Rises, I’m not Stiller, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Blood Meridian, Factotum and Altered Carbon, among many others.

Favorite genres: Art, independent, international, and genre film; literary, sci-fi, and crime fiction; all sorts of nonfiction.

Favorite musicals (of which this festival has many): Everything from Singing in the Rain to Dancer in the Dark, but I’m not a huge fan of melodrama; I prefer more restrained films.

Favorite musicians: Tom Waits above all, Thievery Corporation, Pixies, Royksopp, Coldplay, and the Clash.

Favorite cities: New York (there’s no other city like it) and San Francisco (its opposite; I love SF for its own singular virtues), as well as London, Paris, and Edinburgh.

Favorite gadgets: Toaster, iPod, vacuum.

Best recent invention: iTunes.

Favorite magazines: Artforum, Wired, Film Comment, and The New Yorker.

Greatest athletic achievement: Under-19 International Rugby Player (in Canada); walk-on soccer scholarship to Stanford; captain of four high school teams (soccer, football, basketball, rugby), and won high school cross-country race three years in a row. Dad was a professional soccer player, so I had a genetic advantage.

Biggest challenge at present: Making sure that the organization has sufficient capital to support its plans.

Favorite futurist fantasy: The one in which the headline of TIME magazine in the year 2010 reads: "Above the clouds," with a subhead that says, "How one cultural institution helped transform San Francisco into the city of the future"—that would be us.

Event outside of film you’re most looking forward to: Going back to NY for my son’s fourth birthday and my annual visit to the gym.

Aspect of the 49th SF Int’l most looking forward to
: Seeing everyone’s enjoyment.

The one thing that a film festival must be: Transcendent. I think a film festival must be willing and able to deliver transformative, liberating experiences.

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