Derelict Leith cinema being brought back to life for final screening

A dusty, derelict cinema which was once a palace of the silver screen is to revisit its glorious past before being lost forever.

The long-shuttered State Cinema, opened in 1938, showed everything from newsreels to The Lone Ranger serial to Hollywood classics over the years, before closing in 1972.

But, with planning permission granted to demolish the Great Junction Street cinema and build flats on the site, organisers of Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival - who made headlines last year by injecting new life into nearby Leith Theatre - saw an opportunity to re-open the State for one last time.

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This week the venue will host a number of festival events, including a screening on Saturday of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, released the same year the cinema opened.

The State Cinema in Leith, which is opening its doors again for one night only after being closed since 1972.The State Cinema in Leith, which is opening its doors again for one night only after being closed since 1972.
The State Cinema in Leith, which is opening its doors again for one night only after being closed since 1972.

David Martin, the festival’s founder and creative director, said: “After the buzz and excitement surrounding our use of Leith Theatre last year, we decided we would keep at it and try to provide something unexpected again.

“We thought it would likely be in the centre of Edinburgh and we had a shortlist of 30 unused buildings, but then the State cinema came up.

“We had previously tried to find out who owned it without luck, but when we saw an interview online with the new owner, we got in touch and told him what we would like to do. He said it sounded like a great idea to use it one last time.”

Once permission was granted from the council and a full safety check was carried out, artist David and his army of volunteers got to work. “It’s much more stripped down and derelict than the theatre was, but that makes it more exciting and edgy,” said David, who teaches at Leith School of Art.

“The interior has changed a lot over the years. Once the cinema closed in 1972 it became a bingo hall and then a nightclub, at which point everything was changed internally, with bars, walkways and platforms added.

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“It’s certainly rough and ready, but also evocative. It’s more of a shell now. We started building a floor - because it no longer had a floor - about three weeks ago. Before that people went in and cleared it, as it was full of rubble and dust.

“The festival is volunteer-run and we currently have a team of 400 from all walks of life helping out.”

This is the fifth year of the Hidden Arts Festival.

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“I originally approached the council and they allowed use of the arches behind Waverley Station. It was more of a street festival, but went so well that the following year the council let us use an old street cleaning depot just off Grassmarket.

“That was when the festival came into its own. There are pop-up venues during the Fringe, so why not outside of August?”

Fundraising contributed almost £10,000 towards state-of-the-art lighting and rigging, and by the weekend the curtain will open in the State one final time for a multi-sensory screening of Snow White.

“It will be an extended variation, with audience participation, and things like toffee apples instead of poisoned apples. We hope people will come down and be quite nostalgic.

“It’s a unique experience - there will be nothing else quite like it.”