Source: Tim P. Whitby/BFI

Tilda Swinton

Industry figures including screenwriter Paul Laverty, filmmakers Mark Cousins and Kevin Macdonald, and actor Tilda Swinton are among the voices calling for “transparency” in the bidding process for the Edinburgh Filmhouse takeover.

The Filmhouse was previously run by the Centre for the Moving Image, which entered administration in October. FRP Advisory was appointed as the administrator.

It is understood that the preferred bidder for the takeover was the Signature Pub Group, who had plans for a movie-themed bar. Its bid was withdrawn after a transferal of alcohol licence was denied by the council. Further bids include from local businessman John Alexander, in conjunction with former Filmhouse staff.

Fears are mounting that a pub group is on the verge of securing a bid, however the administrators have confirmed to Screen that a sale has not yet been completed.

Laverty, who is based in Edinburgh and is a frequent collaborator with Ken Loach, told Screen: “I hope the Edinburgh council and Scottish government will feel a responsibility to protect this as a well-run cinema and not allow change of use, otherwise everything folds. Are we going to leave this wonderful cultural jewel to the free market? I hope the district council remains strong and refuses to grant permission [for a transferal of licence].

“What I think is really important is there should be absolute transparency with the administrators.”

“This is a scandal”

Oscar winner Swinton, who lives in Nairn, Scotland, said in a statement: “The Edinburgh Filmhouse belongs to Edinburgh. It is not a privately owned commodity to be sold – without the bounds of unequivocal transparency – to a private buyer. The Filmhouse – its state-of-the-art projectors, DCP equipment and valuable archive material – is largely paid for and owned by the public and it is the due diligence of politicians and impassioned citizens alike to protest its unaccountable sale by administrators - who are, incidentally, set to benefit financially by such a transaction – to the highest bidder.

“This is an invaluable cultural resource for a city that deserves the Filmhouse it already owns to be in the hands of legitimate cineastes who will nurture its future and the legacy of cultural cinema in Edinburgh and beyond. This is an opportunity for all of us to join together to put a flag on the field: culture matters in Scotland. Let’s make it so.”

The Mauritanian filmmaker Macdonald stated: “The Filmhouse, which nurtured my career – and the career of virtually every other Scottish filmmaker – is a public asset. And a huge cultural benefit. It should not just be sold off to the highest bidder as though it were any old building ripe for re-development. This is a scandal.”

Public protests have been taking place outside the boarded-up 88 Lothian Road building and the Scottish National Party (SNP) has also weighed in, with Edinburgh MPs Joanna Cherry and Tommy Sheppard publicly calling for Filmhouse to remain a cinema.

Cousins, a former artistic director at Edinburgh International Film Festival, echoed the need for the amount of public investment in the Filmhouse to be taken into consideration. “Not only was the building itself highly subsidised, but all the kit in the building, the projectors, the audio systems, there was a new state of the art conferencing system, all paid for by the public purse. Should all of that have gone into the pot?

“The politicians are waking up to this. This is a public-private model.”

Local businessman Alexander added: “To my mind, the Filmhouse has received millions of pounds of public subsidy. It’s a semi-public asset. It looks as if it’s going to go to a pub chain. The whole thing is a travesty.”

A spokesperson for the joint administrators responded: “We have engaged significantly with multiple stakeholders in relation to the property sales process, including parties seeking the preservation of the building as a cultural cinema. Our legal duty is to maximise value to the Company and its creditors and we continue to work to conclude the property sales process shortly. Despite the speculation, the process is confidential and we are unable to comment further until its conclusion.  

“Ever since the appointment for the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), we have engaged with the creditors, trustees, interested parties, potential funders and various public bodies with an interest in the administration and more broadly arts and the city of Edinburgh.  On cultural matters we prioritised the sale of the intellectual property relating to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, enabling the festival to be remounted in 2023.  We have also overseen a project to archive a significant amount of cinematic materials for historical preservation, working with the National Library of Scotland.  However, our overriding legal duty is to maximise value to the Company and its creditors.”