Graham Street in the Presidio, San Francisco, offers a view of the offices of San Francisco Film Society (background), where Graham Leggat (1960-2011) is deeply missed.

Graham Leggat: Filmmakers, Writers, Fans Remember

Susan Gerhard August 30, 2011

When news of San Francisco Executive Director Graham Leggat’s passing hit the web, responses were heartfelt and immediate. SF360 collects a few of those thoughts.

“Graham Leggat's kindness was legend,” wrote critic Omar Moore in examiner.com. “He was an absolute gentleman. He worked extremely hard too, and he gave of himself to everyone.” Moore recalled waiting in line, in 2003, for a Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of House of Sand and Fog featuring an in-person appearance by Sir Ben Kingsley that Moore was determined to witness. After the standby line moved into the Walter Reade Theater for the sold-out screening, Moore continued to wait when a man in a black anorak appeared, saying, ‘Hello, I’m Graham.’ Moore explained his plight. Leggat said he would see what he could do—before returning with a ticket.

“Graham’s death at the young age of 51 is a blow to the burgeoning art house cinema movement in this country,” wrote Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Director of Digital Strategy and indieWIRE co-founder Eugene Hernandez in his eugonline blog. Hernandez wrote about a conversation Leggat had his with him during San Francisco International Film Festival 2010. “I think what we do is a massive benefit for society,” he remembered Graham saying. “I say sometimes that we think of ourselves as a machine for the creation of pleasure. We’re out there to give people pleasure. Discriminating taste is a vehicle for the delivery of pleasure. Good service is a vehicle for the delivery of pleasure. Warmth, compassion… We like people to have a good time in many, many different ways.” Hernandez offered, “There’s so much more to say, but I’ll leave it there and to conclude, I’ll just quote Graham: ‘Thanks, pal.’”

The announcement on David Hudson’s Daily on Mubi offered professional acquaintances a chance to weigh in on the sad news. Filmmaker magazine editor Scott Macaulay remembered asking Leggat to write the "Game Engine" column for his magazine. He soon realized, he said, “How ahead of the curve Leggat was in identifying the pulses that would be shaping 21st century film entertainment. For us he wrote about the convergence between film and gaming, the cinematic narrative of Playstation 2's The Getaway, and, presciently, in a piece called 'Digital Wage Slaves,' the harsh employment practices of video game companies.” Commented critic Michael Guillen at the Daily, “ Graham was a champion for so many of us, including each and every person in the adventure that was the San Francisco Film Society and the jewel of its crown: the San Francisco International Film Festival. I’m deeply saddened by his passing and honored to have had my life touched by his. Safe passage, Sir.”

The Chronicle’s Leah Garchik, who’d interacted with Leggat frequently in his time in San Francisco, penned a wide-ranging obituary, which featured insight gleaned from Leggat himself in the weeks before he died, as well as local filmmakers and members of San Francisco Film Society’s board. Leggat's father (Graham Leggat, Sr.) was a professional soccer player in Scotland, a professional soccer coach and announcer here in North America, Garchik noted, and it influenced Leggat's approach to guiding a film institution. “[Graham] said childhood visits to his dad's locker room had taught him about teamwork.” Garchik quoted SFFS Board President Pat McBaine saying, “‘He wanted the best players on his team.’”

“Jennifer Rainin, president of the Rainin Foundation, which funds narrative feature films with a social justice mission, said its first partnership was with the Film Society,” Garchik wrote. “[Rainin] recalled Mr. Leggat's ‘gift for illuminating, for breathing life into things,’ and remembered his coming to see her ‘with his handwritten list of 20 ideas for how best to deploy the funds’ and with ‘great enthusiasm and passion,’ going through each. ... He made me feel like a partner and not like a donor."

One of the first to respond on SF360.org itself, Bay Area-based filmmaker Brant Smith (In-World War, Quality of Life) wrote DIYsucks.com that Graham “always had time for a hello and idle chitchat at events….Who was I, but a scrappy no-name DIY filmmaker? He treated me with the respect and kindness one dreams of receiving for doing any craft or art. He was a class act that made me feel appreciated as a filmmaker.”

Responding in indieWIRE’s comments section of its news feature by Nigel M. Smith on Leggat’s death, Jeffrey Abramson wrote, “Graham was an inspired leader and warm soul. While most will laud his legacy for his incredible impact on the San Francisco Film Society . . . as one of the first program directors of the Gen Art Film Festival he ignited a spark that has continued to burn with passion, popularity and integrity for 15 years (and to think I was just a volunteer working the door back then). You are missed much already.”

Longtime San Francisco film-community leader Bob Hawk, currently a consultant in New York, wrote, “I first met Graham when we were both working the IFP/Kodak booth for American independents at the Berlinale. Besides his being a joy to be with, I was immediately impressed with his many talents and virtues—qualities that he had early on and never lost. He just honed and burnished them as he made his way through an impressive career track, culminating in his superb leadership of the San Francisco Film Society. (And as one who worked at SF‘s Film Arts Foundation for a number of years, I was so appreciative of how swiftly and gracefully he executed the SFFS’s embrace of FAF’s membership and their needs when FAF went under.)”

“Diligence and grace were two of Graham’s biggest virtues," Hawk wrote. “Super smart and a master at creative thinking, tender yet tough, discreet when called for yet delightfully bawdy when most needed…. I will always treasure and be eternally thankful for the many kindnesses (and boosts) he gave me through the years.”

“A unique, complex and genuine soul. Sharp, stubborn and deliberate balanced with the gentleness of a man who cares deeply about the people around him,” summed Gregory Vena on SF360.org. “I learned a lot just by swimming in his wake for one festival season. Thanks for everything Graham. Folks in this city will be reaping the benefits of your talent for many years to come.”

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