The future of the world’s longest continuously running film festival has been thrown into jeopardy by the collapse of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), the Edinburgh-based charity which runs the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Just over a month after the Festival’s 75th anniversary the charity has fallen into administration, with the board of trustees citing an overwhelming number of factors which have forced them to take the decision that the charity cannot continue to operate.
In a statement released on Thursday, October 6, the CMI made plain that a “perfect storm” of considerations have led them to take the step of closing all facilities and trading companies with immediate effect. This includes the Edinburgh Filmhouse, along with the associated café bar, and the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen.
The trustees’ statement is staggering in its honesty, and lays out the stark realities facing any business attempting to operate in the current economic climate. Some of the specific details that have led to this decision show the failure of the governments at both Westminster and Holyrood to support businesses, and artistic and creative businesses specifically.
The CMI board disclosed that their energy costs were due to rise by approximately £200,000 over the next twelve months. The CMI was a Real Living Wage employer, and it’s worth reflecting that more than 100 people lost their jobs with this announcement.
Payroll costs were due to increase in excess of 10% over the next twelve months to meet that commitment to paying their staff a liveable income. General cost inflation was running at between 10% and 30%, a staggeringly high amount, which would only have been able to be met by being passed onto customers.
Additionally, the public funding which the CMI was reliant on to make its programme available at a reasonable cost to customers, could not be guaranteed beyond March 2023, and has reduced in real terms over the last eight-year period.
The CMI board understood that increased costs could not be passed onto their customers. They recognised that “the cost of living crisis is affecting people’s spending decisions”, and also acknowledged that the pandemic has changed the attitude of cinema-goers, who have now become more used to watching films on streaming platforms. Cinema admissions at the Filmhouses in both Edinburgh and Aberdeen were running at around half of pre pandemic levels.
Arts businesses are always planning not just for the next week or month, but for the next twelve months and usually longer. Plans for the August 2023 Film Festival would have been well advanced. The inability to guarantee both income, and levels of expenditure, means that this decision has had to be taken now, before the CMI and its trading companies committed to spending that, ultimately, they had no guarantee they would be able to pay.
As Winston Churchill, the much-quoted former Prime Minister once actually said: “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them”. It must be asked whether more support could have been offered to sustain this vitally important cultural asset.
If the charity running the world’s oldest film festival can be allowed to collapse, and the festival to potentially cease to exist, what, if anything, will be done to support other, smaller artistic endeavours, based in less glamourous areas of the central belt? What, if anything, will be done to support businesses which bring joy to the lives of their communities? If the Westminster and Holyrood governments cannot sustain the arts, then how can we trust them to sustain the nation?
Feature image credit: Sandy Gemmill