Edinburgh Filmhouse and Film Festival: City should put on a benefit for workers who have lost their jobs – Brian Ferguson

It has been just over a month since the sudden demise of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse cinemas in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, but the deep wounds created by their closure are still raw and painful.

An image from the film The Wizard of Oz projected onto the Filmhouse building in Edinburgh city centre this week (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
An image from the film The Wizard of Oz projected onto the Filmhouse building in Edinburgh city centre this week (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

Despite the much-discussed “perfect storm” which has been gripping much of Scottish cultural life since then, there is still a sense of disbelief at how the rug was suddenly and brutally pulled from beneath these long-running cinematic institutions.

There has been no real explanation of why they were the first to go after more than £5 million in public funding was spent trying to keep the Centre for the Moving Image, its operating charity, afloat.

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All that has emerged is a growing mountain of evidence that financial troubles were building long before the pandemic but were never adequately dealt with.

An image of actor Anna Karina from the film Vivre Sa Vie was projected on Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh as part of a campaign to save the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Filmhouse cinema in the city. (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
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It has also become clear that the seriousness of the situation was kept quiet from all but a tiny number of the CMI’s staff. The Scottish Government and its agencies were only alerted in a last-ditch attempt to avoid an impending insolvency which by then seemed inevitable to those who had signed off earlier bail-outs.

The sudden closure of the Filmhouse cinemas and collapse of the EIFF in its 75th anniversary year seemed to herald a dark new period for the cultural sector.

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It is obvious that swift and decisive action will be needed from the Scottish Government if further insolvencies and significant job losses are to be avoided.

After more than a decade of “standstill” funding, one of its first moves should be to rule out cuts to the cultural sector, just as Creative Scotland recently announced that organisations currently reliant on its long-term support will be funded until at least 2025.

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There is also an obvious onus on arts organisations to work closer together, forge new relationships and share resources. But, more immediately, it strikes me that much more should be done for those that lost their jobs overnight last month.

Efforts to “save” the Filmhouse cinemas and the EIFF made plenty of headlines last week thanks to a clever idea from filmmaker Mark Cousins of lighting up Salisbury Crags and the Filmhouse building in Edinburgh by projecting images of classic films onto the landmarks. That coincided with the launch of a crowdfunding campaign to raise £50,000 for a “welfare fund” for those most affected by the CMI collapse.

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It struck me that the perfect way to give the campaign a boost would be for Edinburgh to stage the kind of cinematic celebration it has become renowned for over the last 75 years – but with all the proceeds going into the pockets of the workers who made the magic happen. Although one of the busiest periods of the year is looming, the city has no shortage of terrific venues capable of hosting such an event – and plenty of film fans who I’m sure would not hesitate to back such a cause.

With the levels of expertise available within the EIFF’s sister festivals, perhaps it would not be too much to ask for them to come together with the rest of the city's cultural sector for a heart-warming benefit during the season of goodwill. It would be well worth rolling a red carpet out for.

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