Edinburgh’s ‘film temple’ figurehead steps down as festival’s future is reviewed

A figurehead of Edinburgh’s multi-million pound “film temple” project has stepped down.

By Brian Ferguson
Monday, 17th May 2021, 2:22 pm

Sandy Begbie has left his role overseeing the new home for the Filmhouse Cinema and the Edinburgh International Film Festival months after plans for the nine-storey building were unveiled.

Mr Begbie, chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise, has stood down as chair of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), which runs both the festival and the Filmhouse, at a critical time.

Councillors are yet to decide on the Festival Square development, which has been criticised by heritage groups over its design and scale.

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An advert for a new chair, who will oversee a review of the festival’s future, cites a number of key challenges, including the fact the existing Filmhouse building is “not fit for purpose,” predictions of an “uncertain funding landscape” for the CMI and meeting the cost of the redevelopment.

It reveals that due to the protracted planning process over the new building, the CMI was “exploring options for interim and long term solutions” and that a “reimagined” film festival is a priority for 2022.

The CMI, which Mr Begbie has led with chief executive Ken Hay, is also in the midst of a management reshuffle, which saw a recruitment drive for a chief creative officer launched in May and a decision not to appoint a new artistic director for this year’s festival.

The festival has not had an artistic director since Mark Adams stood down in November 2019. His deputy, Diane Henderson, left earlier this year.The festival is expected to go ahead in scaled-back “hybrid” form two months later than normal in August after a temporary programming team was brought in, amid ongoing uncertainty for cultural events over what Covid restrictions will be in place in August.

The new-look Filmhouse is hoped to be open to the public in 2025.

Mr Begbie, who was unveiled as CMI chair in December 2018, said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last three years and being involved with the development of the CMI.

"We’ve achieved a lot, including strengthening the board, navigating our way through the Covid-19 crisis, restructuring the management team, developed plans for a new building as our new home for the next stage of our development and commenced a strategic review of the festival.”

The advert states: “The combination of an inadequate building, the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and an uncertain public funding landscape from 2022 onwards present financial challenges in the long term.

"We’re therefore reviewing all aspects of the costs and revenues of the charity to ensure that we can continue to deliver against our charitable objectives for the long term in a sustainable way.

Open-air film screenings would be held on the roof of the new Filmhouse, against a backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.

“The existing Filmhouse building isn’t fit for purpose and isn’t able to support the delivery our charitable objectives in the long term.

"Following a prolonged period of investigation, the board’s preferred option is to develop a new Filmhouse on Festival Square and a full planning application for this was submitted in December 2020.

“However, the planning process will take time and the financing will be challenging. Therefore the charity is continuing to explore options for interim and long term solutions.”

Mr Hay said: “Our vision for developing a new Filmhouse on Festival Square remains our focus.

Sandy Begbie took over as chair of the Centre for the Moving Image in January 2019. Picture: Graham Flack

"However, the uncertainty of the outcome of any planning application means that we, of course, have to constantly monitor and assess alternative options.”

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