Does Edinburgh's Filmhouse have a future?

Plus City Lights returns to TV

I was a latecomer to the charms of Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, my own cinema-going experiences rudely interrupted in the mid-80s by a move from Edinburgh to the Highlands and a return in the mid-90s that saw me drawn to the Cameo, just as Pulp Fiction heralded a new wave of student-friendly films.

I like to think I’ve made up for my youthful ignorance, having spent many hours ensconced in either the cafe or one of its three screens (admittedly favouring Screen One, usually somewhere near the aisle to help my 6’ 5” frame fit into the snug seats) over the last 20 years or so.

I won’t bore you with memories of all the films I’ve seen or events I’ve attended - though watching 1965’s The Hill (currently on BBC iPlayer) in the company of Sean Connery, hearing William Friedkin discuss 1971’s The French Connection, attending multiple events celebrating the career of Jim Henson, or being allowed to organise New Year screenings of archive Scottish TV come high on my list - but its a place I never tire of visiting.

The volume and variety of films it shows is second-to-none in Scotland (though we’re lucky that the likes of Eden Court, the GFT and Dundee’s DCA also offer a vital alternative to the multiplexes), and the fact its not part of a chain is something worth celebrating.

Of course the pandemic scuppered any plans the team had for festivals or special seasons in 2020, and its been sad to see the effect the frequent closures have had on staff. I’ve missed poring over the programme each month and picking out a handful of classics to watch at the weekend, particularly over Christmas.

Much as I love Filmhouse, it’s not hard to see its faults. The building is old and the screens leave a lot to be desired when it comes to accessibility. As a listed building there’s little that can be done to improve the interior without reducing the number of seats and/or the size of the cafe, meaning the business wouldn’t be able to continue.

After years of discussion and false hope it looks like things might be about to change, with the announcement earlier this year that plans are well underway for an ambitious project that would see a new Filmhouse built in the nearby Festival Square, an area that’s long been a waste of space that nobody has figured out a good use for.

The plans have evolved following discussion with City of Edinburgh Council, and while I was initially sceptical that the scale of the project would progress (our council doesn’t seem to be a fan of tall buildings) it might finally mean that Filmhouse has a future. The new building would give us more screens and more space for special events and other businesses to be in the same place. It should also offer the Edinburgh International Film Festival a proper base of operations.

A recent email from Filmhouse asked that anyone interested in seeing the cinema survive and thrive take some time to let the council know how they feel about the plans, and I’m in the process of leaving my thoughts on the website today. If you want to do the same then this page on the Filmhouse website will tell you more.

What are your memories of Filmhouse or thoughts on the new plans? Let me know in the comments below…

Willie Melvin returns to TV!

A quick heads-up that the festive season has seen BBC Scotland go a bit crazy with the keys to the archives, resulting in a long overdue repeat run of the first series of Bob Black’s brilliant 1980s comedy, City Lights.

Gerard Kelly stars as bank clerk and wannabe bestselling author, Willie Melvin, who never quite manages to rise above his own failings. Kelly is hugely entertaining in the lead role, ably assisted by the likes of Andy Gray as Chancer, Jonathan Watson as Brian and Iain McColl as Tam.

I’ve been banging on about the need for a repeat for years so it’s good to see it’s finally come to pass, head to BBC iPlayer now to watch City Lights episode one - hopefully we’ll get the other six series in 2021, you can always email the BBC to ask for them.

It’s also worth checking out BBC ALBA on iPlayer for new documentary Cinema Gadelica, which is all about Scottish film locations, while films with a Scottish connection include the aforementioned The Hill (plus a tribute to Sean Connery), Bill Forsyth’s first feature, 1979’s That Sinking Feeling, 1985’s Restless Natives, and 2012’s Brave.

Oh, and Local Hero is on All4 for the next fortnight.

Feel free to subscribe below for more emails covering various aspects of film, TV, digital and cinemas in Scotland - 2021 marks ReelScotland’s 11th year and I hope to be writing more and talking to people involved in all of these in the coming months.

I should probably give a plug to the book I’ve been working on for the last few years that’s finally in stores, A Kind of Magic: Making the Original Highlander. It’s all about the 1986 film and includes interviews with all of the main cast, apart from Sir Sean - signed copies are available from the publisher, or its also on Amazon

Happy Hogmanay when it comes!