Edinburgh Filmhouse rescue bid by Summerhall founder rejected

The owner of one of Edinburgh’s leading cultural venues has revealed he has had a rescue attempt for the city’s Filmhouse cinema rejected.

Summerhall founder Robert McDowell has revealed a £1.5 million bid was tabled for the Lothian Road site after it became clear that a crowdfunding campaign was floundering.

Mr McDowell said he had no intention of abandoning efforts to bring the Filmhouse back to life despite being told by the administrators he had been outbid.

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He said he believed the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), the arts charity that ran the Filmhouse cinema in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, had prematurely pulled the plug on the arts’ institutions.

Summerhall founder Robert McDowell has revealed he lodged a bid to take over the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

Meanwhile the award-winning Edinburgh architect pursuing plans for a new Filmhouse building in Festival Square has confirmed new plans were due to be lodged on behalf of the CMI two weeks after it went into administration.

Writing in his company newsletter, Richard Murphy said he was “optimistic that a phoenix will arise” out of the project.

He said: “We believe that the fundamental business case for the new building was sound and that, once built, it would be financially sustainable, would have become a major cultural attraction within Edinburgh and a landmark for the city's international film profile and the film festival.”

Mr McDowell is one of the most influential figures on the city’s cultural scene thanks to the success of Summerhall after he acquired the former vet school from Edinburgh University.

The Filmhouse cinema in Edinburgh closed suddenly at the beginning of October after the arts charity Centre for the Moving Image went into administration. Picure

He claims the sprawling complex, which opened in 2011, is now the biggest privately-owned arts centre in Europe. The venue, which has championed theatre, music and the visual arts, opened a new cinema last year.

Mr McDowell’s bid has emerged after the Scottish operator of the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End revealed a bid to take over the Filmhouse had been rejected. It is understood a frontrunner has lodged a bid “substantially higher” than rival offers.

However, it is not known what conditions may be attached to the offer, including a possible change of use for the home of the Filmhouse.

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A crowdfunding campaign to buy the Filmhouse fronted by former senior staff was launched last month with the aim of raising £2m in the space of a fortnight. But with a deadline for bids looming, less than 10 per cent of the target had been reached.

Mr McDowell said: "We had to step in when others suddenly found that they couldn’t. Somebody had to do something. Our intention was to save the Filmhouse for the purposes that it already had and for the film festival to go forward in future.

“We have been told that that there are higher bidders. But I believe the first priority for the administrators should be saving the Filmhouse as a going concern. It has also had a charitable purpose.

"Our view was that the CMI wasn’t actually insolvent. The net debt was around £472,000. There are many things in the arts world that carry debts. But we were told that they gave Screen Scotland three hours’ notice that they were going to call in administrators.

“There has been no proper attempt, as would normally be expected in the case of voluntary administration, to save the Filmhouse as a going concern.”

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