It began as a small free weekly cinema for the homeless where men and women struggling to survive on the streets, never mind pay to get into a multiplex showing the latest blockbusters, could enjoy a night’s entertainment.
But now the Grassmarket Picture House in Edinburgh which has flung its doors open to all has developed a cult following among film buffs and is attracting Hollywood directors and actors who say the venue is exactly the type of place they want their work to be shown or premiered.
Among the celebrities who have made low-key visits to the cinema in Candlemaker Row, is Scots actor Brian Cox who watched a screening of ‘A Brief Encounter’, chatted with audience members afterwards and enjoyed a free coffee which is part of the experience.
Next month sees the Scottish premiere of “Accidental Anarchist” as well as a personal appearance by Carne Ross the documentary’s star. Mr Ross, a former high-flying diplomat with Tony Blair’s government quit his job after the Iraq War to become a political activist.
Mr Ross will also join in a question and answer session with the audience on 29 June.
As well as the regular free films every Monday night at 7.30pm, the cinema hosts special weekends with Hollywood director David Mackenzie, the Scottish director of the Western ‘Hell or High Water’ who will attend a Western extravaganza weekend starting 26 May.
Ross who gave evidence to the Butler Review, investigating errors to the run up to the Iraq war, went on to found the non-profit Independent Diplomat advising marginalised people around the world, including in Kosovo and Somalialand giving them access to decision makers and international forums such as the United Nations and European Union.
Film fan Jonny Kinross, chief executive of the Grassmarket Community Project where the cinema is based, said: “We want to attract as wide and diverse an audience as possible.
“We have regular attenders from guys sleeping rough who would never have the money to go to a mainstream cinema, and would never prioritise it cash-wise to professionals in the city who enjoy the range of cult films on offer.
“People in the film world are always looking for the ‘next big thing’ and new locations for screenings, but especially want different audiences and people who can relate to their work - and we certainly provide that.
“We want to get the message out it’s free and for everyone.”
John Archer, co-director of Accidental Anarchist, whose film had its world premiere in Copenhagen in March, said he had deliberately chosen the Grassmarket for the Scottish premiere because of its alternative audience.
“The film is about participatory democracy and the Scottish premiere is an excellent opportunity to discuss alternative politics in a different setting. I made the film after reading Ross’s book ‘Leaderless Revolution’ and wanted to bring it to a wider audience. He’s not afraid of holding those in power to account, exposing government. I think it is because of him we got the Chilcot Inquiry. Ross will have a lot to say on the night.”