Our current building at 88 Lothian Road is a former church, from which we commenced screenings in 1978. At first, we had only one 90-seat screen (now Cinema 2), accessed via a back door on Chuckie Pend off Morrison Street, but by 1985 the restoration work was complete, and Cinema 1, the bar and the front doors were opened. Cinema 3 was added in 1997, giving us a complicated combination of three separate buildings.
The current building has always had its challenges – space is limited, it does not meet standards that we or our customers would expect, and much of the building is not accessible. Cinema 1, the Filmhouse Foyer and the Café Bar sit in the former church which is a B Listed building, meaning it is of special architectural or historic interest, which then limits its development options.
Over the past 30 years, Filmhouse has looked at a number of options for upgrading or redeveloping the existing building or relocating to a new site. Following a feasibility study conducted in 2018, it was clear that the substantial challenges of the existing site, including the listed status of the church, precluded a major redevelopment. The study also set out how a refurbishment of the existing building to provide improved fit-for-purpose facilities would result in a significant reduction in cinema seats and Café Bar space, meaning that we would not be able to afford to keep the organisation running.
Additionally, it's not just about providing more comfortable cinemas. Filmhouse is part a national charity, Centre for the Moving Image, which also incorporates Edinburgh International Film Festival and Aberdeen's Belmont Filmhouse. As well as showing the best and widest range of films, we work with a wide range of partners and festivals to bring audiences a rich diversity of content and ideas, and delivering a high quality programme of education and engagement activities and talent development programmes throughout the year. Due to the limitations of our current building many activities are either held offsite – often in spaces that are not fit for purpose - or cannot happen at all.
The new building will increase the quality and quantity of spaces needed by Filmhouse and EIFF, housing all of our year round activity under one roof, and creating a fully accessible creative hub that will benefit Filmhouse and all its users, Edinburgh residents, and the film and cultural sector more broadly. Whilst the building will be the focal point, we will of course continue to work with partners and communities across the city and beyond in shaping, creating and delivering opportunities for people to watch and learn about film. This would include working with other venues in delivering key aspects of the annual EIFF. The new building will allow us to operate a more successful and efficient business model, helping to secure Filmhouse’s future for generations to come.
For Filmhouse to survive long term and do what it does best, we need a major rethink. We’ve explored a lot of options for the existing building and other sites, and we believe this proposal is the best solution.