Forty years of Filmhouse

Since the first electronic television was created in 1927, people have gradually become used to enjoying the entertainment of motion picture at home. Good for some, but has also forced many cinemas to be in a continuous battle to remain up and running.

In the following 90 years, the introduction of VHS, cable channels, digital TV online streaming devices such as Netflix and Now TV have added pressure to the already crowded industry.

A look at Edinburgh’s cinema history alone is a demonstration of this struggle: a city which has seen over 70 cinemas open their doors, has also seen dozens of them shut up shop, and now hosts just nine public picture houses.

Filmhouse is a success story amongst the tales of failure and closures. On October 9th, the cinema will celebrate its 40-year anniversary, and this at a time when it remains as busy as it ever was.

80s crowds

Scorsese on stage

Credits to Filmhouse

Four decades ago, on the same day in 1978, the entity called Filmhouse was first launched. Starting from its very first screening, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, the 1972 German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the cinema has made strong curatorial decisions and has since then has become a household name for film lovers in search of alternative and foreign films.

Housed at 88 Lothian Road, it is the only cinema in Edinburgh which is registered as a charity, which means none of the money spent within the cinema goes to film distributors or big production companies.

Michael Hunter, marketing officer at Filmhouse, explains how this sets the institution aside from others: “All the money spent here, be it at the bar or at the cinema, goes back into the charity as a donation, for programming great films and organising learning opportunities in Edinburgh.”

However, this doesn’t mean Filmhouse has slackened in its creativity or relies solely on its position as a charity. It has instead become a prime example of how cinemas can stand out and attract new audiences in an age where many people don’t see the point of exiting their cosy living rooms just to see a film.

The cinema is best known in the city as the official home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), which takes place for two weeks in June every year. The world’s longest continually-running film festival screens hundreds of films ranging in genres and length and was attended by an audience of over 50,000 people in 2018.

Yet it may be the dedication to proving film can be more than just entertainment and its more specialist festivals (Filmhouse currently hosts 13) which include versatile and eclectic programmes, that make Filmhouse stand out from all other cinemas in Edinburgh.

Unlike the limited selection of films on online streaming platforms and the Hollywood-centric films shown on TV time and time again, Filmhouse digs deep into motion picture archives and screens films which are relevant and relate to current topics.

It houses the Take One Action festival over the course of two weeks in September, showcasing the stories of (small) people making big changes in the world, from female right-wing activists in Greece to victims of the Franco dictatorship seeking justice, to encourage its audience to be the change it wants to see.

For 13 years, the Africa in Motion festival screens films highlighting creative stories from across the African continent which would otherwise not be accessible to most audiences as home and offers a look into worlds very different from our own.

Head of Filmhouse, Rod White, explains how the organisation of such festivals contribute to the continued success of the cinema: “All the festivals we work with exist within their own communities and connect us with audiences we might struggle to attract. We could not be as international and as diverse as we are without them.”

By hosting these festivals, the cinema is also able to challenge viewers to consider the power of film as a media more than any other cinema in the city, or even in the country.

To mark its 40th anniversary, Filmhouse put together a line-up of classics and notable films taken from the programmes of every year since its doors opened, with prices reflecting the prices at the time. Starting in 2016 and finishing up with the film showed at the first public viewing at the cinema in 1978 today with Gertrude, for just £1.

Looking forward to the next 40 years, Michael hopes Filmhouse can continue doing what it has been since 1978: “Filmhouse is great because we offer things you can’t find elsewhere. As long as we can, we want to keep doing what we are doing, and we just want to keep showing films that we believe in.”

 

 

 

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