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‘A far less inviting place’: Belmont Filmhouse shut down amid rising energy costs

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Thousands join campaign to save Aberdeen’s iconic ‘wee cinema.’

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Updated 9 October 2022

Long a staple of the Aberdeen arts scene, the historic Belmont Filmhouse closed its doors for the final time last Thursday. The popular film house on Belmont Street was shut down after reports emerged that its parent charity, The Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), had gone into administration.

As news of the closure made its way onto social media Thursday morning, a number of Belmont patrons and employees lamented the turn of events, with users commenting they were 'gutted' and 'absolutely devastated' at the 'grim news.'

CMI, which also operates the Edinburgh Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, cited rising energy costs of 200,000 pounds over the next 12 months and a 43% drop in pre-pandemic attendance as reasons for the closure. CMI also announced that 102 staff in Aberdeen and Edinburgh had lost their jobs as a result of the closure.

The Belmont ceased trading immediately after the news broke, with Filmhouse staff locking the doors as customers queued outside. Mary Ogan, a regular Belmont patron, told The Gaudie that she was queuing for a matinee showing Thursday morning when she learned of the closure.

She said, ‘It was a shock… all we had on our minds was going into our favourite cinema and looking forward to seeing the Leonard Cohen film. We found out when the manager came to the door… He said to us that he had bad news… He spoke sensitively and looked in shock himself.’

A sign was posted on the doors of the iconic Belmont Street location from ‘Team Belmont.’ It read simply, ‘To all you lovely people: Thank you.’

Speaking to The Gaudie, University graduate and former Belmont employee Amy Smith said, 'I have only worked at Belmont for a short amount of time but I can honestly say it was the best place I could ever work at. To lose the city's only independent cinema is incredibly tough and shortens the amount of opportunities that are presented for the creative sector in Aberdeen.'

University Literature lecturer and Belmont regular Professor Tim Baker commented, ‘The Belmont Filmhouse has been one of the anchors of cultural life in Aberdeen for decades. For me personally, going there almost every week has been more than a hobby; it is the space where I am most comfortable, and I cannot conceive of Aberdeen without it.’

‘... its absence makes Aberdeen a far less inviting place to live, and signals a willingness to leave behind the things that keep many of us here. I’m just as concerned for the staff, many of whom I know well, and I sincerely hope that any planning keeps them at the centre.’

Aberdeen based screenwriter Chris Watt told The Gaudie, ‘It was through their support of local filmmakers that I saw two films I was involved with, projected on their screens, while the staff felt like friends more than assistants… it also allowed the people of Aberdeen to experience something other than mainstream studio driven Hollywood films… Independent cinema is vital within our community.’

However, Aberdeen's film community is not taking this crushing loss lying down.

Within an hour of the cinema's closing being announced, a Facebook group entitled 'Save the Belmont Cinema' had been established. Over the next few days, more than 2500 members had joined the group.

Hundreds gathered at popular Aberdeen tiki bar and music venue Krakatoa on Saturday afternoon, with attendees pledging to make a ‘community-owned Belmont Cinema a reality.’ Councillors Desmond Bouse and Sandra McDonald from George St and Harbour ward attended the meeting, as well as former Lord Provost Barney Crockett.

Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman, the former rector of the University from 2014 to 2021, also addressed the crowd, telling them to reach out if they needed advice. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had addressed the shutdown in the Scottish Parliament Thursday afternoon, telling MSPs that ‘the Scottish Government will engage to consider whether there is any support we can bring to bear…’

Attendees at the meeting discussed reviving the Belmont as a Community Interest Company, managed and operated by a group of community members. Craig Adams, a co-owner of Krakatoa, which is also run as a CIC, told the Press and Journal, ‘It would mean decisions are taken through consensus voting. This means something can’t happen unless people are prepared to go along with it as a group.’

One of the group's founders, Jacob Campbell, told The Gaudie, 'The Belmont is Aberdeen's only independent cinema. As well as being a cinema and a place for customers to lose themselves in the very best of independent cinema, it was also a community that's important to the social fabric of Aberdeen.’

‘... we aren't prepared to see further decline in Aberdeen - and trying to take our wee cinema away from us is the final straw. The Belmont Cinema has done so much for Aberdonians over the years, it has literally brought the wonder and the magic of film to our doorstep - it's high time that we repaid that favour and fought to save it.'


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