Filmhouse talks stall after guarantee of public funds sought

Saturday August 5th 2023

Edinburgh-Filmhouse-88-Lothian-Road

Edinburgh Filmhouse at 88 Lothian Road


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Crunch talks to save the Edinburgh Filmhouse have stalled after its new owners sought assurances that any shortfall in rent would be covered by public funds.

Edinburgh City Council said shoring up cash to keep the cinema open would be “very challenging” and is exploring other options.

A new charity made up of former staff and campaigners fighting to secure the future of the capital’s “unique cultural cinema provision” is understood to be the only organisation being considered as the new operators by Caledonian Heritable, which bought 88 Lothian Road for £2.65m earlier this year.

Convener of the council’s culture and communities committee Val Walker said she was optimistic the West End building would return as a “hub” for independent and cultural cinema – but added no funds would be committed “until everything is nailed down”.

If the latest plans come to fruition then films could be screened in libraries and community centres “after they’re screened at the Filmhouse” as part of a new ambition by the council to “spread those films across the city,” Cllr Walker said on Thursday.

The Filmhouse closed its doors last October after over 40 years, following financial challenges fuelled by the pandemic and rising energy prices, which led parent company the Centre for Moving Image (CMI) to call in administrators.

Over 100 jobs were lost across CMI’s operation, which also included Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse, and the Edinburgh film festival which has since been saved by Government agency Screen Scotland.

Some of those suddenly made redundant last year have staged protests outside the boarded-up B-listed building and have now set up a new charity to run the cinema, Filmhouse Edinburgh Limited (FEL).

Meanwhile, regular talks have been taking place between the council, Scottish Government, Screen Scotland and Scottish Enterprise in a bid to find a solution.

Officials and politicians involved in the discussions were told recently FEL was negotiating with Caledonian Heritable – but that the new owners were looking for the council and government to provide a long-term rental guarantee.

A report going before the culture and communities committee next week said legal advice has been sought on the matter and a “full risk assessment” would take place before any decision is made.

However, it said it had been made clear to partners the council’s ability to enter a rental guarantee agreement is “very challenging” given its current financial position.

The local authority previously supported the Filmhouse and festival with £100,000 a year, which remains ring-fenced in the budget for the purposes of ‘developing cultural cinema in Edinburgh’.

The report added: “The group has also agreed to investigate potential alternatives to a rent guarantee (given the likely risk involved) which could achieve the same outcomes.”

A non domestic rates waiver for 88 Lothian Road has been secured for six months and a licence to occupy is currently being negotiated to allow FEL “to enter the building and start to plan refurbishment, operating and fundraising”.

FEL, which was granted charitable status in June, is being led by Ginnie Atkinson, who until 2010 was the Filmhouse’s CEO and managing director of Edinburgh film festival.

Cllr Walker said: “We want to see 88 Lothian Road as the hub for independent and cultural cinema in Edinburgh, drawing the very best of international cinema.

“And then what my ambition is is we work with whichever group is running 88 Lothian Road to try to spread those films across the city to, after they’re screened at the Filmhouse, try to have them screened in libraries and community centres across the city.

“We want to engage the communities and the neighbourhoods.”

She added: “We are not going to commit council funds until everything is nailed down.”

City centre councillor Finlay McFarlane said: “The incredible resilience and determination of the former Filmhouse staff whom I have had the pleasure of supporting over the past months has meant – against all odds – that we are moving ever closer to a sustainable cultural film offering at 88 Lothian Road.

“Having championed this on behalf of my ward and the city since the sudden and entirely unexpected collapse of the previous operators, SNP councillors have been and continue to be consistent in pushing for the council administration to explore all options of support that could result in a restored Filmhouse.

“As a city we should not question our role as an important stakeholder of cultural cinema, and within our abilities should be seeking to match the incredible ongoing support of Screen Scotland, the Scottish Government and of course the tireless campaigners.”

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