New film venue planned for On the Waterfront

THE home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival for the last 35 years is lining up a move to a new purpose-built complex, The Scotsman can reveal.
Russell Crowe at the fan premiere of Darren Aronofskys Noah last month. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPLRussell Crowe at the fan premiere of Darren Aronofskys Noah last month. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL
Russell Crowe at the fan premiere of Darren Aronofskys Noah last month. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

A swathe of land on the banks of the Union Canal, which was previously home to the McEwan’s brewing empire, is believed to be the favourite for the new site of the Filmhouse.

A new building for the cinematic institution, which hosts many of the festival’s gala premieres, has been earmarked on a proposed new masterplan for the Foutainbridge area.

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Artist’s impressions of the currently derelict site show how it would be transformed into a waterfront complex of new homes, offices, hotels and canalside cafés.

The Filmhouse has played host to dozens of red carpet events since it opened on the site in 1979, with Russell Crowe the most recent celebrity to visit for a gala premiere of his new blockbuster Noah last month.

An alternative site in the city centre is also being explored – behind the National Museum of Scotland and the Festival Theatre – as part of a radical overhaul of the area.

However, the Fountainbridge site has already been cleared for development and work could begin with the next couple of years, subject to planning permission and funding.

The plans for a new arthouse complex have emerged almost a decade after proposals were revealed for a £20 million complex on Festival Square, next to the existing site, which failed to win the backing of the city council.

The Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), which runs both the Filmhouse and the film festival, has launched a poll to gauge support for moving to one of the two sites.

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The CMI has said that a “central element” of its plans will be to ensure that “a re-imagined Filmhouse is fully accessible and is able to provide all our customers and audiences with the highest quality experience.”

It is understood the existing site on Lothian Road will be difficult to overhaul in future. The last major improvements were carried out there in 1997, when a third screen was added.

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However, there is a dilemma over whether to uproot the Filmhouse from its home at the heart of the culture quarter, which also includes the Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres and the Usher Hall.

CMI chief executive Ken Hay said: “We know a large number of people in Edinburgh hold the existing Filmhouse in very high regard.

“But it is a B-listed Victorian church building, which means we are very restricted on what we can do with it.

“There are obviously limited sites coming up for development in Edinburgh and we wanted to look at options around ten minutes walk from the existing Filmhouse.

“But we realise there are obviously implications about moving to a new site, including the cost of a brand new building and things like public transport links.”

The waterfront site is already earmarked for a new arts complex, one of two cultural quarters identified on the blueprint, which is currently out for consultation.

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The Heritage Lottery Fund last week ringfenced £5 million for the transformation of a former rubber factory into a new base for the Edinburgh Printmakers organisation, which will boast two galleries, a café-bar and terrace, artists’ studios, office space and a shop.

Sarah Price, chief executive of the Edinburgh Printmakers, said: “As far as we are concerned the more cultural organisations and facilities that are based in the area the better.”

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Richard Lewis, culture leader at Edinburgh City Council, said: “The plan we are consulting on at the moment for Fountainbridge includes a whole cultural triangle and we would be keen to support any ventures which help us realise that vision.”