Carol Colburn Grigor's Dunard Fund was secretly bankrolling work on the proposed home for the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and the Filmhouse cinema in Festival Square.
Two separate donations – of £144,000 and £1m – are listed in the accounts of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI) – the charity that ran the two arts institutions, which collapsed suddenly in October.
The nine-story building, planned to replace the long-running Filmhouse on Lothian Road, which opened in 1978, would have been the third major new cultural development in the city supported by the Dunard Fund.
One source said the CMI donations were ringfenced for the development of the new cultural buildings, due to Ms Grigor’s support of architectural projects, including the V&A Dundee museum.
Her charity focuses on classical music, visual art, “the rehabilitation of endangered architectural masterpieces and the design and construction of new architectural masterpieces”.
The charity founded by the American philanthropist, a former concert pianist, has been one of the biggest backers of the Edinburgh International Festival.
The Dunard Fund has already committed £35m for Edinburgh's first purpose-built new concert hall for a century. Work is expected to begin within weeks on the £75m Dunard Centre, which is also being funded by the Scottish and UK governments, and the city council.
Work is also due to begin shortly to transform the former Royal High School on Calton Hill into a National Centre for Music and a new home for St Mary’s Music School, with the Dunard Fund committing £55m to the project.
Richard Murphy, the Edinburgh architect who has been working on the Calton Hill project, designed the proposed new home for the Filmhouse and the EIFF.
He had also worked on proposals for an earlier scheme for the same site, which Sir Sean Connery agreed to put his name to. However, it failed to secure the backing of the city council. Ms Grigor’s husband Murray, a close friend of the late James Bond star, is a former EIFF director.
Plans for the film complex, which was aimed at attracting more than 800,000 visitors a year – more than double the Filmhouse’s usual audience – included five underground cinema screens, a studio theatre that can also be used to show films, stage exhibitions and live performances, and a 180-capacity event space.
The proposed building, planned to open in 2025, was reduced in height by around two storeys following an initial announcement, but was still envisaged to be taller than the neighbouring Sheraton Grand Hotel and Usher Hall.
When a planning application was lodged in December 2020, Mr Murphy said: “I don’t have any apology to make for the height of this building. Height tends to be a dirty word in Edinburgh, but this is a public building, not a block of flats or offices."
However, the project attracted opposition from heritage groups due to its scale, design and the loss of public space on Festival Square.
The idea of a new home for the Filmhouse and the EIFF on Festival Square was revived in March 2020 by the CMI after a long search for a suitable site.
At the time, CMI chief executive Ken Hay said: “Through doubling the number of screens and seats for regular cinema-goers, creating dedicated education and learning spaces, and developing an iconic festival centre, all within a fully accessible and carbon neutral building, this really is a 21st-century temple for film.”
The CMI’s accounts reveal concerns were being raised behind the scenes about the “inadequate” condition of the Filmhouse, and its potential impact on the charity’s long-term financial health, as far back as 2015-16, when work began a long-term vision for a “National Film Centre”.
There was no mention of the Dunard Fund in the two major announcements about the new building in March 2020, shortly before the Covid pandemic closed entertainment venues down, and nine months later when the new design was revealed.
The 2018/19 accounts, which state the CMI’s trustees and senior executives were considering options for the delivery of a new Filmhouse and EIFF headquarters, included the initial £144,000 donation.
The £1m donation is listed in the accounts for 2019/20, filed in March 2021, in which the trustees stress the need for the CMI to “broaden its income base” to help mitigate the impact of a predicted decline in public funding. The following year’s accounts, filed in October 2021, described the Lothian Road building as the CMI’s “key operational risk”.
The trustees report states: “It is not financially sustainable in the long term in its current location and configuration. The listed status of the building and its ‘landlocked’ location mean it has limited development potential, and requires increasing amounts spent on it to maintain it at a basic level. The existing offices are inadequate for meeting the needs of the business, and compliance with health and safety requirements.”
The CMI was still pursuing the new building before it called in administrators after the film festival’s 75th-anniversary edition. Both the EIFF and the Filmhouse ceased trading immediately.
Mr Murphy later revealed the announcement emerged just two weeks before a new planning application was due to go in.
He said at the time: "Without a client it is impossible to submit a planning application and without a planning permission it is impossible to fundraise for the project.
"Nonetheless we remain optimistic that a phoenix will arise. We also 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 Murphy declined to comment on the Dunard Fund’s donation to the CMI. No-one from the Dunard Fund was available to comment.