Edinburgh Filmhouse takeover bid offers genuine hope it can survive and thrive – Brian Ferguson

A late afternoon dash across Edinburgh city centre was not how I expected to end last week – but neither was the approach that had me heading to Lothian Road.

An image from the Scottish coming-of-age romantic comedy film Gregory’s Girl was projected onto the Filmhouse in Edinburgh after it was suddenly closed down when its operator went into administration. (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
An image from the Scottish coming-of-age romantic comedy film Gregory’s Girl was projected onto the Filmhouse in Edinburgh after it was suddenly closed down when its operator went into administration. (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

There have been a few intriguing developments over the fate of the Edinburgh Filmhouse since its sudden and shocking closure two months ago. But the opportunity to hear about an attempted rescue of the boarded-up home for independent cinema in the city was impossible to resist.

There have of course been several campaigns, which have inevitably overlapped, since the collapse of arts charity Centre for the Moving Image, which also ran the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The campaigns have seen public meetings, candlelit vigils, images of classic films projected, red carpet pledges of support, crowdfunding campaigns and – most recently – a fundraising screening of Gremlins in a church hall.

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The latter event was staged during a weekend of intense debate, and a fair amount of excitement and enthusiasm, after the sudden emergence of a potential white knight. I’m happy to admit I had neither heard of Gregory Lynn nor his independent cinema in London’s West End.

Gregory Lynn is leading a bid to take over the Filmhouse building in Edinburgh.

However my interview on his vision for the Filmhouse was seized upon by film fans familiar with the Prince Charles Cinema on Leicester Square. Mr Lynn made several things very clear to me – his takeover plan was being fully-funded by his company and would not be calling on the public purse, would include a much-needed refurbishment, and was aimed at bringing audiences flocking back.

He did not pull his punches when it came to discussing the “decline” of the building and the level of investment needed to bring it up to scratch. I did wonder how Mr Lynn’s vision, and criticisms, would chime with the team behind the only other bid in the public domain.

A group of former senior staff have been working behind-the-scenes to try and salvage the Filmhouse. Initially this took the form of lobbying the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council over a buy-out. This swiftly morphed into a crowdfunder aimed at raising the £2 million themselves.

At the Scottish Baftas, the Filmhouse’s plight was a huge talking point, with Jack Lowden, Sam Heughan, Peter Capaldi and Dougray Scott all offering support. To have attracted more than 1,600 supporters within a few weeks is remarkable given the dire fundraising climate. But there is no escaping the fact that the crowdfunder has failed to reach even ten per cent of the target.

With the real possibility of a property developer or hospitality business lurking, it was no surprise Mr Lynn’s vision was largely warmly-received – though notably not within the crowdfunding camp. A statement issued within hours of the news emerging suggested the new bid was “a very clever piece of PR” which would threaten the Filmhouse’s “truly diverse cultural cinema programme”.

His emergence has added a significant new dimension to the Filmhouse saga and provided genuine hope it can survive and thrive as an independent cinema – although one which will have to change from its previous operational model. Winning over those involved in past regimes is frankly not his main concern. That comes down to securing the backing of the CMI’s administrators – who will ultimately decide the Filmhouse’s fate.

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