Edinburgh Filmhouse and film festival: Council urged to help in rescue bid

Council bosses have been urged to explore “every possible avenue” to secure the future of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse, a week after financial pressures forced them both into administration.

The Filmhouse on Lothian Road ceased trading last Thursday.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
The Filmhouse on Lothian Road ceased trading last Thursday. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

The Centre For Moving Image (CMI), which runs the festival and cinema, as well as the Belmont Filmhouse in Abderdeen, ceased trading last Thursday as 102 members of staff were made redundant with immediate effect.

Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place, told the culture and communities committee there was “a profound sense of shock and loss” at the news.

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Council officials have since reached out to Creative Scotland and the Government whilst senior councillors are set to attend a meeting at Holyrood to discuss the way forward for the charity, which Mr Lawrence called “a critical part of the culture of the city and the country”.

“We have formed an officer working group of the public sector stakeholder to look at what could be done in the current circumstances,” he told the committee. “What officers are trying to do is work with those stakeholders to protect and support film culture, cultural cinema, film festival and so on.”

Mr Lawrence said there were “positive discussions” taking place about the immediate future of the festival, which celebrated its 75th birthday this year, but added saving the Filmhouse would be “more challenging”.

A cross-party motion tabled by councillors agreed to explore setting up a trust to ‘co-ordinate donated and other funds that will ensure the short-term future of both the Filmhouse and EIFF’.

Members also called for a report detailing how the shorter-term future of both can be assured, how staff are being supported by the council, the amount of funding CMI, EIFF and the Filmhouse have received from the council in the past five years and ‘prospects for continuing previous funding’.

But Tory councillor Max Mitchell criticised the motion for only being about “fact finding and where the council is possibly going to be involved”. He said: “We’re not really committing to anything to where we might be able to offer assistance or signposting. Are we committing monies, are we committing staff resources beyond just fact finding?”

Mr Lawrence told him that officials would have had to advise against a motion that “committed council financial resources outside existing budgets”. “There are constrains on that,” he added. “What we are doing is putting significant officer time in trying to work with partners to try to address the issues the motion raises. Should there be any wider call on council resources or whatever kind we would clearly need to bring that back to members for further consideration.”

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Making the shock announcement last week, CMI said in a statement that the closures came amid a “perfect storm” of increased operating costs, reduced footfall in cinemas caused by the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

SNP councillor Amy McNeese Mechan said the immediate priority is to rescue jobs and the festival. “I’m really hoping that we have these positive conversations to take things forward,” she said. And she reported being told new staff were hired at the Filmhouse just days before its doors were closed. “That’s got to be pretty devastating for them,” she added. “Alongside these positive moves forward, I think we really want to know why we didn’t have more of a heads up in this.”

Highlighting Edinburgh’s “illustrious” history in the world of film, Green councillor Dan Heap said it should “concern us all” that at the moment the city “does not have a leading film festival and has lost one of its most long standing cinemas”. He added: “Edinburgh simply cannot not have a film festival and we need to explore every possible avenue that might exist to allow and enable the Filmhouse and the film festival to continue.”

Val Walker, Labour convener of the culture and communities committee, said: “Personally I was devastated when I first heard the news, especially for the staff but also as somebody who has frequented the Filmhouse for over 30 years. “I will do anything I can to support the Filmhouse, the International Filmhouse and Cultural Cinema in Edinburgh and I know that is shared by Cammy Day as the council leader.”

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