On Thursday Morning, Edinburgh’s iconic cinema The Filmhouse and the immeasurably impactful Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) announced to its staff that it had entered administration. Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen has met the same fate, ensuring that over one hundred people have immediately been made redundant. This is a tragic, and desperately avoidable, situation. Worse, the sudden closure of these beloved institutions is a prophetic warning, a grim glimpse into a future that Britain is sleepwalking into.
I attended Filmhouse almost weekly in my first year at university, delighting in the opportunity to dive into the world of cinema whilst trying my hand at writing film reviews for The Student. It was a formative and unique experience. Perhaps it was the unbelievable selection of films on show, particularly when the annual Film Festival rolled around and unique, experimental masterpieces like Monos (which I reviewed for the Student in 2019!) were allowed to garner the respect and adulation that they deserve from Western audiences. Perhaps it was the friendly and passionate staff, who Filmhouse refused to pay a pittance, unlike their soulless corporate competitors. Desperate for the chance to review the latest releases and hit article deadlines, I’d sometimes have to attend The Filmhouse without a friend to keep me company. But I never felt alone, and I doubt the other regulars who would shuffle in from the cold to bask in the warm glow of the silver screen did either.
This speaks to the heart of the issue, and it’s why the demise of Filmhouse is so utterly tragic. There may be dozens of other places to watch a film, but The Filmhouse was more than a cinema. It was a community, an idea, a vision. Aside from perhaps some of the other independent cinemas that are also struggling to make ends meet, nowhere else was so deeply driven to bring cinema, in its countless bizarre, brilliant, and beautiful forms, to the masses. It would play blockbusters alongside independent and foreign films. Generous student discounts and concessions for the elderly gave the place a unique atmosphere that ensured it was adored.
The impact of the closure of a truly great institution upon the countless people who relied upon it is difficult to overstate. Amidst an escalating cost of living crisis and a dark, cold winter, over a hundred people have lost their jobs. The disparate regulars, young and old, have lost more than a place to put their feet up on a Friday night. They might have lost their ability to glimpse the ever-evolving world of cinema in all its glory. Countless budding filmmakers and creators have lost a valuable pathway into a notoriously impenetrable industry. We can only hope that their talent might be realised elsewhere, but the continuous march towards corporate dominance in the arts means that radical, experimental, dissenting voices are being pushed out whilst the rich get ever richer.
The closure of Filmhouse is symptomatic of a wider problem – the monopolisation and corporatisation of culture, of art, of the very things that have the power to expand our minds and make our hearts sing. Some might argue that this week’s news was inevitable, as the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise of streaming and a global fuel crisis precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine make such moments, though sad, ‘natural’ and ‘unavoidable’.
But such cold, economistic and neo-liberal logic is as dishonest as it is miserable. One of the richest countries in the world can afford to support libraries, museums, and yes, even independent cinema – even if they aren’t necessarily ‘profitable’. The choice to run this country for the elites at the expense of the rest is not inevitable. Neither is the closure of Filmhouse, nor the countless other wonderful and vital independent places – from local pubs and music venues that sit at the heart of their communities to libraries that democratise knowledge itself – which will inevitably close as they fail to make ends meet this winter.
As Filmhouse closes its doors for what might be the last time, we should understand that this is a glimpse of what is to come. It is a shot across the bows, a warning to be heeded. A radically different society that understands art, culture and people has intrinsic value beyond profits and capital is possible and necessary. A failure to build one condemns us, particularly the most impoverished, to a life devoid of joy, imagination and fulfilment.