Edinburgh’s Filmhouse revival looks much more likely and realistic – Brian Ferguson
There have been so many twists and turns in the saga over Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema it is hard to believe it is less than a year old.
Yet with the first anniversary of its sudden closure looming there is now genuine optimism that a remarkable revival is not just possible, but looking increasingly probable.
The launch of a new campaign to try to secure the future of Edinburgh’s historic cinema does have echoes of a previous – and ultimately unsuccessful – attempt to buy the Lothian Road landmark out of administration last autumn.
The same group of former staff were behind those frantic efforts to raise £2 million in the space of a few weeks after it was put up for sale in November.
This time around, their target is a more modest £1.25 million, with a crowdfunder website hoped to raise an initial £250,000 of that.
But a lot of other things have changed since the autumn.
The prospect of the Filmhouse reopening in anything like its previous guise actualy looked bleak in the spring when it became clear that one of Edinburgh’s biggest pub operators, Caledonian Heritable, had acquired the building for £2.65 million.
Obvious comparisons with the previous sale of the former Picture House concert venue and cinema on Lothian Road to a pub company were ominous.
But, behind-the-scenes, the four former colleagues decided to regroup and approach Caledonian Heritable directly over a possible reopening of the art house cinema, citing its important to the city as a cultural institution.
I didn't fancy their chances, based on many years of reporting on important cultural venues vanishing in favour of the plans of developers or hospitality operators.
There seemed much more optimism in Aberdeen, where the local authority actually owned the historic Belmont cinema and has just named a charity as the preferred operator of the building, which had been run by the same doomed arts charity, the Centre for the Moving Image, as the Edinburgh Filmhouse.
But the momentum built up by a grassroots-based Save the Filmhouse movement had applied sustained political pressure on councillors.
Cross-party support for the reopening of the Filmhouse as a cultural cinema was a key moment when it emerged in the spring.
It has required a lot of patience and determination from the group who have been negotiating with Caledonian Heritable to get to the current position.
But there appears plenty to be positive about, not least the fact they have secured access to the building for the next six months to help them draw up refurbishment plans as fundraising progresses.
The new Filmhouse (Edinburgh) Limited charity which the former staff have created has its sights set on that £1.25 million target to help seal the deal on a proposed 21-year lease with Caledonian Heritable and ensure it is in fine fettle when it reopens.
That figure should be achievable given that £764,000 worth of pledges previously secured for a potential purchase of the building given the odds were stacked against it succeeding.
It is to be hoped that the many high-profile supporters who expressed dismay at the Filmhouse’s plight will play their part again and reduce the need to rely heavily on public funding to unlock the doors.
That prospect is clearly still some way off, but it is looking far more likely and realistic than at any other point since that dark dark when the doors closed last October.
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