Edinburgh Filmhouse in administration: Disbelief and guilt at shocking news could lead to rescue package – Stephen Jardine

How do you negotiate the cobbled streets of the West End of Edinburgh with an angry film director in the passenger seat wearing a white suit and holding a large glass of red wine?
Ken Loach was angry with Stephen Jardine for being late but turned out to be a lovely forgiving man (Picture: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)Ken Loach was angry with Stephen Jardine for being late but turned out to be a lovely forgiving man (Picture: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
Ken Loach was angry with Stephen Jardine for being late but turned out to be a lovely forgiving man (Picture: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

It wasn’t something that cropped up in my driving test, taken a few weeks before, but it was the very real challenge I faced one August evening many moons ago.

The director was Ken Loach and he was angry because I’d never driven in Edinburgh and got lost on the way to pick him up to take him to the airport for the last flight to London.

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Thankfully he turned out to be a lovely forgiving man. He made the flight and didn’t seem bothered about the red wine stains all over his trousers.

That was just a typical day working as a press officer for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and I loved it so much, I returned every summer when I was a student.

Those larger-than-life memories of actors, directors and wonderful films flooded back this week with the dreadful news that the Film Festival and its venue Filmhouse, plus sister cinema The Belmont in Aberdeen, have all ceased trading after going into administration.

The charity that runs them blamed “a perfect storm” of escalating operating costs and overheads along with soaring energy charges and inflation which had added to unsustainable cash-flow problems and debt.

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Underlying all that is the fact that audiences have never recovered post-Covid with ticket sales down more than 50 per cent. All cinemas are facing the chill wind of change. Cineworld, owners of the Picturehouse chain, said recently they were considering filing for bankruptcy due to financial challenges.

The switch to streaming services has been the final nail in the coffin. With winter approaching, the delights of watching Netflix, Amazon Prime and Paramount from the comfort of your own sofa can seem an attractive alternative to a cold walk to your local movie theatre.

But cinemas have always been about much more than just a place to view films. They are a communal, shared experience where we gasp, wince and tear up at the same moments.

Going to the Filmhouse always felt special. Plus how many first dates started in the famous café bar and how many last dates involved an argument about a movie on the way home?

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I feel some personal responsibility. For years I’d visit the Filmhouse at least once a week. Sometimes it would be to see a specific film, other times it would be a random choice guaranteed to be good because it had been selected by the Filmhouse programmers.

Then a multiplex opened near me and my Filmhouse visits tailed off. Sad to say, I haven’t been back since the pandemic. I suspect many people share my sense of guilt this weekend. “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone” as Joni Mitchell once said.

Hopefully the disbelief the news has sparked will lead to some kind of rescue package that will save the day in some form or another.

But in these challenging financial times, the Filmhouse drama is a reminder to us all of the precarious nature of our cultural institutions. If we don’t use them, we really might just lose them.



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