“Hello, I’m Graham.”
Those words titled above, spoken by Graham Leggat in 2003 in New York City, were the beginning of what would become a light friendship, or should I say, regular acquaintance, one that became admiration and respect. It was incredibly cold on that December evening nearly eight years ago, and by sheer happenstance I walked into the Walter Reade Building, or was it Alice Tully Hall?, or was it — ?, well, never mind.
All I knew was that I was shivering, and that I’d be damned if I didn’t get in to see Sir Ben Kingsley talking in a Q&A about a film he was in called “House Of Sand And Fog”, which would screen first. Then the Sir would talk.
All of this film flam excitement was part of the event being held by the Film Society At Lincoln Center, on 63rd Street off Broadway in money-making Manhattan.
The SOLD OUT sign on the window of the box office didn’t faze me whatsoever. Nor did the dozen people ahead of me on that stand-by line. Come hell, high water and hippos I was getting in to see the Sir, and Jennifer Connelly and Shoreh Aghdashloo and the rest, as Vadim Perelman’s adaptation of Andre Dubus III’s novel got its big screen close up.
About that SOLD OUT sign: I would have written the words SHUT UP underneath it. I wasn’t selling out to anybody.
I, Mr. Omar Moore, was getting in.
And I was thinking exactly that, when a man in a black anorak coat and hood came up to me.
And this was after the stand-bys had walked in.
“Hello, I’m Graham.”
I shook his hand, and asked him if he could do me a big favor and get me in to see Sir Ben.
Graham said that he’d see what he could do. He went away, retreating to the warmth and cozy comfort of the building. I noted his English accent and remembered that from my vantage point as I saw him remove the hood from his head that he was bald.
Bald, British and kind of short, just like Sir Ben.
The no-hair, short situation were the two things I didn’t have in common with either man.
Tickets were sold out for this “very special evening with Sir Ben Kingsley”. The snow started falling. The wind began howling.
Cold as ice, my fortunes were about to change.
“Here.” Graham said, handing me a complimentary ticket.
I was grateful. I got to sit about five rows from Sir Ben Kingsley. I was too happy to notice the great performance Mr. Kingsley gave in “House Of Sand And Fog”, which was set in San Francisco.
Something was meant to be about that whole encounter.
So it would be fitting when in San Francisco a few years later I would meet a short, bald man with an English accent at the city’s Film Society.
“Weren’t you at the Film Society Of Lincoln Center in New York?,” I asked.
“Yes,” Graham replied.
I told him what he’d done several years ago. I don’t think he really remembered, although he smiled as if he had.
Graham Leggat’s kindness was legend. He was an absolute gentleman. He worked extremely hard too, and he gave of himself to everyone. He changed the San Francisco Film Society for the better during his near-six-year tenure, and now a year-round film program and exhibitions shine on, among many, many other proud, significant achievements by Mr. Leggat, a man who loved film, absolutely adored it. “The 400 Blows” was among his favorite films of all time.
Graham’s impact was felt throughout the San Francisco Film Society, and his passing yesterday at the tender age of 51 after a near-two-year battle with cancer, will leave a huge void in the Film Society and its staff will have to pick up the pieces, which I’m sure they’ll do very well. I know they, and the people at the Film Society of Lincoln Center will miss him immensely, as will I.
Three weeks ago here in San Francisco many dignitaries and Film Society members and film critics attended a celebration of Graham’s life. I told Graham then that he was a champion, that he was looking good (he was), and that his son was proud of him. He was thankful.
My last communication with Graham was a silent thumbs-up gesture with my left hand, and a smile.
There were so many things Graham Leggat accomplished in his time at the San Francisco Film Society. I think he’d agree or joke that you could fall asleep before the list of his accomplishments got read.
Yes Sir. Yes Miss. If you wanted your insomnia cured, just get Graham’s list of accomplishments. Start reading and visualize the sheep jumping. A great cure-all for the all-night awakeys.
Graham Leggat brought many big names to be feted at the San Francisco International Film Festival over the time he was there, including Spike Lee, Robert Duvall, Tilda Swinton, Mario Bello, Robin Williams, Ron Howard, Terrence Stamp, Oliver Stone, Walter Salles, Miranda July, Frank Pierson, Jim Brown, Joan Rivers and many others.
Graham Leggat always greeted you with a smile. A grand gentleman with a quick joke and a welcome. He wouldn’t turn his face or back to you when he saw you coming, the way some do when they choose to either ignore or declare themselves unready or unwilling to face you or look you in the eye. Graham always helped people. His thoughtful ways and considerate nature made him immensely likable.
Did I mention that Graham accomplished a lot? I did, but his family, his partner and his children are the proudest things he’s accomplished, I’m sure.
If you had to jet-set to heaven right this very instant to ask Graham Leggat what he’s most proud of, I think you’d be able to safely report back that family is his number one achievement.
So to all the accolades and breakthroughs, yes, celebrate them. But most importantly it is the depth, richness and commitment that Graham had to family, friends and even some strangers that will endure.
That’s the only thing that matters.
So goodbye Graham. Bloody hell man, I miss you. Hope they’ve got a comfy little space already set up for you up there.
For more of Omar’s film stories, movie reviews and interviews visit his Popcorn Reel website and watch his unscripted film reviews on YouTube. Follow him on Twitter.
For a list of Omar’s joltleft.com stories and film reviews, click here. He is a contributing film critic for “Ebert Presents At The Movies” on PBS television and also a far flung correspondent for the preeminent film critic Roger Ebert and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.