My last work engagement in Edinburgh city centre, exactly three years ago this week, was a briefing in a back room at the Filmhouse cinema on Lothian Road on plans to create a multi-storey “temple of film” on Festival Square.
For Ken Hay, chief executive of the Centre for the Moving Image, which was responsible for both the Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), the project was the culmination of years of behind-the-scenes discussions and debate over how, and where, to create a fitting home for cinema in the city, on the scale of the national museums and galleries, or the Usher Hall.
While it all seemed hugely ambitious at the time, particularly in the absence of any significant financial pledges, no-one could have predicted what lay in store for the Filmhouse, the film festival or even cinema-going in general.
After two years of Covid restrictions and disruptions, it felt like something of a miracle when the EIFF returned to its August slot in the calendar, opening with writer-director Charlotte Wells’ terrific Aftersun.
The widespread anger at the financial collapse of the CMI in October, which saw the EIFF and Filmhouse cinemas in Aberdeen and Edinburgh cease trading immediately, has hardly dissipated. Unanswered questions over what went on behind-the-scenes and what is being planned for the Lothian Road Filmhouse have piled up constantly.
Five months later there is, however, some certainty over the future of the EIFF, which always seemed certain to return in some form thanks to a heritage dating as far back as the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe to 1947.
I had wondered whether it might be wise for the EIFF to take a year out in 2023 to properly plan a comeback. The staggered return just announced, which will see it return as part of the EIF’s programme this August ahead of a full-scale 2024 comeback, may be an imperfect solution. But it offers the real prospect of a thrilling return at the heart of Edinburgh’s unique culture gathering, which was unthinkable in October.
That is something for the EIFF’s loyal audience to really look forward to at last.