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The Last [Lost?] Picture Show

Over the past weekend scaffolding and boarding has gone up on the former home of the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

The firm that acquired it intends to create some form of bar/café/venue /or whatever; there obviously being such a shortage of such facilities on Lothian Road.

Some photos have been posted on Twitter, with attached captions of lamentation and that is a sentiment it is easy to sympathise with, particularly if you can recall films seen there and friends met in the old café /bar that was an integral part of the FIlmhouse experience.

However, it seems necessary to drill a little deeper into this whole curious saga, which was sprung on the city [& Aberdeen] but even more so the staff at very short notice, in the autumn of last year.

We can easily understand how people felt & feel so angry and disappointed, but to paraphrase a useful remunder: “Distress and upset are not an adequate analysis; hope is not a strategy.”

There have been lots of stories about possible developments of intended rescue post closure; some hopeful, some – to be brutal – probably quite hopeless. There was an attempted crowd funder to support redundant staff and possibly bid for the premises though that fell well short . There were lots of anguished expressions of sympathy from stars of screen and screen; but cash to back these up was not immediately apparent. There was a bid from the marvellous Summerhall team; and a serious, apparently very robust offer, from the owners of Prince Charles Cinema, London a successful and similar film venue. But the pub people won out and the administrators went for the best financial offer, as they usually do.

This is why there won’t be films shown there during a truncated 2023 Film Festival [ revived for this year through a joint effort from the EIF and Creative Scotland] and Edinburgh will be one historic venue short during the usual frantic August festivals period.

The overall and consistent story of what happened and why does not appear to be available yet, but before we just continue to lament and protest, we might consider some of the key factors that have emerged over recent months and which might add up to a more powerful account. That could also help us to think about not just how the demise of the Film House occurred, but also what this says about funding arts and culture in Scotland. Indeed, ideal material for Brian Ferguson, who’s hammered away at this saga ever since he first broke the story; he could do a ‘long read’ for all of us interested.

So, what might some of the critical aspects be? And how much attention have we paid to these while expressing all that anger/regret about the closures?

  1. This may have been a bolt out of the blue for Film House goers and staff, but not for others, both in the Centre for the Moving Image and almost certainly in Creative Scotland, the City of Edinburgh and probably the Scottish Government. Reports of financial frailty at the CMI appear to have stretched back over several years. What were the trustees doing over such an extended period of financial frailty?
  2. If such was the case, we also need to ask what funders and sponsors such as Creative Scotland were also doing over that extended time of under resource / overreach by the operators. Afraid to act, or just hoping that something might turn up?
  3. Richard Murphy, the architect who had been working on a landmark new building for the CMI claimed that he had full plans ready to submit at the point the trustees went for liquidation. Seriously, seriously? That really does sound as though communication was not working at all well.
  4. The PCC bid must – from reports – have said some very hard things about how the Film House had operated. A proposal to refurb and reprogramme because it had ‘…been run into the ground ‘[Brian Ferguson again; 13th December 2022]. The PCC lead  had a point; even the non-expert film goer could see a building that was lacking in contemporary facilities and in some respects, even basic maintenance.
  5. Very few accounts seem to have considered the wider cinema climate. Since the pandemic, attendance numbers have been down across all cinemas and as you easily see, many other operators are even now running reduced programming whether through cuts in hours of screening or opening days.
  6. Even had there not been a pandemic, a scan of the city centre by any film goer would have spotted there were somewhere in the order of 25-30 cinema screens within a 15-minute bus ride of the Lothian Road site. If you wanted more comfortable viewing of mainstream cinema – and in the Cameo also some art house offers – they were readily available.

All told, we have to date seriously failed in assessing just why the Film House [ plus EIFF and the Aberdeen screen] went under. We need to do that first if we are to move on.


Not just the Film House. If you read the Business pages rather than the Arts pages, you will know that Cineworld finally slipped into bankruptcy this past week. But it does appear that the cinematically named long time boss Mooky Greidinger will leave the bondholders with the pain and probably buy the assets back of the chain out of liquidation through a cunning plan.

Without checking trustees, we can be pretty sure that the Centre for the Moving Image didn’t have a Mooky on the board.

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